★ On Rhetoric and Responsibility

First meme: "Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and conservative commentators are directly responsible for the murder spree in Arizona." Second meme: "Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and conservative commentators had a strong direct influence on the right-wing nut who pulled the trigger."

Third meme: "Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and conservative commentators are responsible for creating a climate of hate that inspires acts of violence against public servants."

I expect that over the next two or three days, we'll see yet another pivot along the lines of "Sarah Palin's very existence is akin to a cry for violent revolution against elected officials" or "The Tea Party should be outlawed so as to bring some civility again to American politics" or "Conservative commentators need to be banned from the airwaves so that their vile proclamations can't poison the minds of sane, forward-thinking people." Think I'm exaggerating? When prominent Democrats are referring to the murders in Arizona as "an opportunity to [...]  build a closer emotional connection with the middle of the electorate" and a chance to "deftly pin this on the tea partiers," hyperbole becomes more and more difficult to measure.

There are two propaganda efforts that the professional Left is attempting to ingrain in the public conscious. The first is that there is a causal relationship between the political rhetoric of prominent right-wing figures and the attempted assassination of a sitting Congresswoman by a psychotic who cites "Mein Kampf" and "The Communist Manifesto" as two of his favorite works. The second is that the American right is solely responsible for creating a "climate of hate" in which violent political rhetoric overcomes civility, while the Left is forever the sane voice in an increasingly-insane world. Both of these propaganda efforts are profoundly dishonest and blatantly political in nature, as a simple reading of the facts - not to mention a basic understanding of the concept of personal responsibility - will demonstrate.

First, let's examine the notion that Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party (none of whom I am particularly fond, by the way) drove Jared Lee Loughner to embark on his killing spree. As always, it's best to begin by examining the evidence at hand. Now, what actual evidence is there that Jared Lee Loughner read Sarah Palin, watched Glenn Beck, and attended Tea Party events? There is none. Now, what evidence is there that Jared Lee Loughner was sympathetic to Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and the Tea Party? Again, there is none. What evidence is there that Jared Lee Loughner ever saw Palin's shockingly conventional political crosshair map targeting representatives for electoral defeat? Again, there is none. What evidence is there that Jared Lee Loughner in any way subscribes to a belief structure even superficially resembling modern American conservatism? Again, there is none.

Furthermore, what evidence is there that Jared Loughner - a registered independent who didn't vote in 2010 - felt the influence of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, much less was driven to murder by it? There is none. The popular theory among the Left that the "climate of hate" generated by the right had any bearing on Lougher's state of mind is grounded in... nothing. It's a meaningless postulation, academic in nature, with no supporting evidence behind it. The only person who knows what was going on in Jared Lee Loughner's head is Jared Lee Loughner, and the parade of left-wing commentators who are rushing to speak for the murderer are making baseless assumptions about his motives.

Second, let's look at the idea that the right alone is responsible for the so-called "climate of hate" that incites violence. This has been the Left's explanation of choice for every violent act against a public figure since the Kennedy assassination. It rests on the assumption that the mildly heated rhetoric and imagery common in politics for more than a hundred years - rhetoric including "campaign" and "target",  and imagery including bulls-eyes - is not only generated solely by the right, but also that it is capable of driving individuals to unspeakable acts of violence.

Let's examine the second assumption first: that there is a causal relationship between heated political rhetoric and acts of violence - that the so-called "climate of hate" is actually responsible for men like Jared Lee Loughner. Again, let's begin with the hard evidence, of which there is none. Second, let's examine the circumstantial evidence, of which there is... none. Once again, we have no insight whatsoever as to what was going on inside Jared Lee Lougher's head, much less whether there was correlation, let alone causality, with the right's "climate of hate."

Efforts to advance this theory are an attempt to transfer responsibility for this tragedy from the murderer to political opponents. It's just another example of an increasing trend in our society, where concerned elites, unwilling to accept the notion that individuals are directly responsible for their own decisions, seek to reassign blame in order to avoid indicting the central assumption of their political ideology: that no one is responsible for their actions. If personal responsibility is a country's lodestar, then the progressive agenda simply collapses, and for the professional left, that is unacceptable.

Now let's turn to the assumption that the right is alone in utilizing "violent" rhetoric and "militaristic" imagery. For refutations, we turn to Red State:

  • “Here’s the problem: It’s almost like they’ve got — they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger. You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk them, ease that finger off the trigger.”  Barack Obama on banks, March 2009
  • “A Republican majority in Congress would mean ‘hand-to-hand combat’ on Capitol Hill for the next two years, threatening policies Democrats have enacted to stabilize the economy.” Barack Obama, October 6, 2010

And to Hot Air:

And to Daily Kos, who had some rather interesting phrasing concerning Congresswoman Giffords only weeks ago (via Ace of Spades).

And to the DLC, who had a familiar visual metaphor on their electoral map.

And to MoveOn.org, who ran ads comparing George W. Bush to Hitler and whose supporters once bit off the finger of an opponent of nationalized health care (a "regrettable" incident, said MoveOn representatives).

In the context those examples, how can one seriously advance the proposition that the right alone is responsible for creating a "climate of hate" among the populace? You simply can't. For every Bill O'Reilly, there's a Keith Olbermann. For every Glenn Beck, there's an Ed Schultz. If there is a "climate of hate" out there inciting violence - a notion that I find difficult to believe, given the hundreds of millions of people who don't rush out and commit acts of violence based on, say, the reading of the Constitution in Congress - then it's not the fault of one side alone.

So, to recap: there's no hard evidence tying Jared Lee Loughner to the right. There's no circumstantial evidence tying Jared Lee Loughner to the right. There's no hard evidence to support the theory that a "climate of hate" drove Jared Lee Loughner to action. There's no circumstantial evidence to support the theory that a "climate of hate" drove Jared Lee Loughner to action. There's no evidence whatsoever that the right alone is responsible for this theoretical "climate of hate" that is apparently driving us all to violence. If there is a "climate of hate," there is substantial evidence to indicate that the Left is just as responsible as the right for creating it. And if the left is equally as responsible for this climate as the right, then should the Left be held equally responsible for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner?

Of course not. Every man makes his own decisions and is responsible for his own action. Whatever was going on inside of Jared Lee Loughner's head, and whatever forces were acting on him, it was he alone who decided to go on a shooting spree, and he alone who bears the responsibility for killing those innocent people in Arizona. Efforts to shift that responsibility elsewhere in order to score cheap political points off a national tragedy are not just irresponsible; they're effectively attempts to let Jared Lee Loughner off the hook, and profoundly disrespectful to the deceased.

So here's my suggested fourth meme, which should have been the meme all along: "The murderer is responsible for his actions. So let's shut up and pay our respects to the dead."