For some reason, conservatives seem to believe "they won" the recent national conversation about the nature and content of our national conversation, sparked by Saturday's tragedy in Arizona. That, at least, was their takeaway from President Obama's speech at the memorial on Tuesday.
Indeed, the usual disinformation specialists are spreading the claim that Obama "threw liberals under the bus" because he didn't come out and openly adopt the argument posed by many Democrats -- namely, that the vicious and violent rhetoric that has become part and parcel of the American Right's dealings with Democrats has created an environment where death threats and violence are now everyday acts, scarcely worth a shrug of the eyebrow.
See, for instance, Jennifer Rubin in the WaPo yesterday:
A chorus on the left claimed causation between Sarah Palin and the killings (and then the amorphous "climate" and the deaths) and didn't much care for a careful analysis until it became clear their preferred narrative was false. As for the president, he doesn't buy it at all. He said: "And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud." (Emphasis added.) Or, as I put it, rhetorical civility and mental illness are discrete problems. And it doesn't help the liberal line when it turns out this particular lunatic was a-political and didn't watch news.
So, for my friends on the left: facts count. You can't spin a narrative and not be expected to be called on the underlying, flawed premise.
Indeed, if the premise had been that there was "causation" between Palin's incendiarism and Jared Loughner's act, it would have been flawed -- but no one said that, particularly not Paul Krugman, whose Sunday column is the focus of much of the Right's animus.
What most of us said from the start is that it was undeniable that the killings took place in a charged atmosphere in which all kinds of violent rhetoric had created an environment in which nearly everyone present on the ground felt something like this was inevitable -- because it creates permission for violent acts, and fuels the irrationality that makes violence possible. Sarah Palin's "target map" was only the most obvious example. So, for that matter, was that "target shoot" fundraiser by her Tea Partying opponent.
And for what it's worth, it's certainly not a settled matter that Loughner was not acting out of unhinged beliefs that he obtained from radical-right sources -- as we said earlier, his online contributions heavily indicated such influences. Mark Potok of the SPLC has much more, and a thoroughly balanced take, on that.
But in the end, Loughner's motive matters less than the realities that people like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik are well acquainted with already:
Dupnik had all the evidence he needed to make the kinds of remarks he made about the political and social environment in Arizona -- one that has gotten so virulently ugly that Democrats and liberals in Arizona increasingly are fearful for their physical well-being and are reluctant to self-identify as liberals. (Will Bunch had a terrific piece at Media Matters recently on this very subject; as someone with family and friends in Arizona, I can personally attest to this reality.)
Unlike Bill O'Reilly or Megyn Kelly or Monica Crowley, Dupnik actually lives in Arizona, and does know whereof he speaks. Moreover, there is abundant evidence about the vicious eliminationist hatred, some of it officially sanctioned by the GOP and Tea Parties, that was directed at Giffords personally.
Rubin is right: The facts do matter. Especially if you refuse to sweep them under the carpet.
And here are the facts about the mounting list of tragedies that folks on the right keep insisting are just "isolated incidents":
-- July 2008: A gunman named Jim David Adkisson, agitated at how "liberals" are "destroying America," walks into a Unitarian Church and opens fire, killing two churchgoers and wounding four others.
-- October 2008: Two neo-Nazis are arrested in Tennessee in a plot to murder dozens of African-Americans, culminating in the assassination of President Obama.
-- December 2008: A pair of "Patriot" movement radicals -- the father-son team of Bruce and Joshua Turnidge, who wanted "to attack the political infrastructure" -- threaten a bank in Woodburn, Oregon, with a bomb in the hopes of extorting money that would end their financial difficulties, for which they blamed the government. Instead, the bomb goes off and kills two police officers. The men eventually are convicted and sentenced to death for the crime.
-- December 2008: In Belfast, Maine, police discover the makings of a nuclear "dirty bomb" in the basement of a white supremacist shot dead by his wife. The man, who was independently wealthy, reportedly was agitated about the election of President Obama and was crafting a plan to set off the bomb.
-- January 2009: A white supremacist named Keith Luke embarks on a killing rampage in Brockton, Mass., raping and wounding a black woman and killing her sister, then killing a homeless man before being captured by police as he is en route to a Jewish community center.
-- February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.
-- April 2009: A white supremacist named Richard Poplawski opens fire on three Pittsburgh police officers who come to his house on a domestic-violence call and kills all three, because he believed President Obama intended to take away the guns of white citizens like himself. Poplawski is currently awaiting trial.
-- April 2009: Another gunman in Okaloosa County, Florida, similarly fearful of Obama's purported gun-grabbing plans, kills two deputies when they come to arrest him in a domestic-violence matter, then is killed himself in a shootout with police.
-- May 2009: A "sovereign citizen" named Scott Roeder walks into a church in Wichita, Kansas, and assassinates abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.
-- June 2009: A Holocaust denier and right-wing tax protester named James Von Brunn opens fire at the Holocaust Museum, killing a security guard.
-- February 2010: An angry tax protester named Joseph Ray Stack flies an airplane into the building housing IRS offices in Austin, Texas. (Media are reluctant to label this one "domestic terrorism" too.)
-- March 2010: An anti-government extremist named John Patrick Bedell walks into the Pentagon and opens fire, wounding two officers before he is himself shot dead.
-- May 2010: A "sovereign citizen" from Georgia is arrested in Tennessee and charged with plotting the violent takeover of a local county courthouse.
-- May 2010: A still-unidentified white man walks into a Jacksonville, Fla., mosque and sets it afire, simultaneously setting off a pipe bomb.
-- May 2010: Two "sovereign citizens" named Jerry and Joe Kane gun down two police officers who pull them over for a traffic violation, and then wound two more officers in a shootout in which both of them are eventually killed.
-- July 2010: An agitated right-winger and convict named Byron Williams loads up on weapons and drives to the Bay Area intent on attacking the offices of the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, but is intercepted by state patrolmen and engages them in a shootout and armed standoff in which two officers and Williams are wounded.
-- September 2010: A Concord, N.C., man is arrested and charged with plotting to blow up a North Carolina abortion clinic. The man, 26-year--old Justin Carl Moose, referred to himself as the "Christian counterpart to (Osama) bin Laden” in a taped undercover meeting with a federal informant.
Mind you, this list is strictly directed toward incidents involving serious acts of domestic terrorism. It doesn't even begin to include the litany of violent threats and violent acts that have been directed with increasing intensity toward liberals in the past year alone:
-- The head-stomping of a liberal protester by a Rand Paul campaign official in Kentucky.
-- Mentally unstable nutcases threatening liberal campaigners in Washington state, Illinois and Vermont.
-- Thugs hired by the Republican candidate in Alaska roughing up and handcuffing a reporter for asking questions at a public event.
If Jennifer Rubin (or any other right-winger, for that matter) really wants to seriously deal with the reasons Americans -- particularly liberal Americans -- responded to Saturday's tragedy as they did, they need to look at both of these lists and make an honest reckoning.
Now, it may be true that liberals occasionally say some mean, cruel and unpleasant things about conservatives.
But I challenge the would-be equivocators out there who wants to claim that "the left does it too" to come up with a comparable list of liberal nutcases committing acts of domestic terrorism, heinous violence, threats and intimidation, and mass murder in which Republicans are all the targeted victims.
So when another one comes down the pike -- and it will, especially now that everyone on the Right has closed ranks, covered their ears and screamed in unison that they're not inciting violence with their violent rhetoric -- we'll know what to expect then, too. No matter how irrevocable the evidence establishing that this is another act of right-wing terrorism, they'll claim that it has nothing to do with them. It's just another "isolated incident" by a "lone nutcase".
Now, did President Obama really throw his liberal base under the bus the other night? Here's what Rubin says:
The final lesson for the left is this: for the sake of a second term, the president is willing to throw liberals under the bus. He's going to undo their economic mantra (by supporting the Bush tax cuts). He is going to undermine their approach to their war on terror (with drones, a long-term commitment to Afghanistan). And he is even going to make the liberal icons -- Krugman, the New York Times editorial board, Keith Olbermann and the rest -- look like fools. The "paper of record" has revealed, for any doubters, that the truth is the first casualty of its op-ed page.
Here's the only thing the president really said, which seems to be the source of their claim that he's repudiating their base:
If, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy--it did not--but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.
The WSJ's James Taranto thinks this is highly relevant too. But all Obama really said here is that "a simple lack of civility" was not the cause of the tragedy, and frankly, I've looked around, and there really isn't anyone making that case, though many on the right are trying to characterize their critics that way.
Obama was on a mission to heal last night. He didn't need to engage this fight -- indeed, it would have been a big mistake for him to have done it. But I didn't get the sense that he's sold on the idea that there's no problem here and that we should just move along, either. Time will tell on that front.
Meanwhile, I'll let Steven Budiansky's insights stand as all the answer necessary to Rubin's premature assertion that the conversation is over and her whitewashing side has "won":
The unstable young man who opened fire yesterday, it is already clear, was more of a nut than a political agent. But to those who would suggest that political violence is just some random occurrence, a meteorite falling from the sky and claiming its victims by chance, I would suggest they look to the way that delegitimization of democratic institutions, inflammatory and demagogic appeals to what our founders called "passion" over reason, and glorification of brutality have ever been the handmaidens of the descent to hell of once-civilized societies.
What we have seen in the last few years is not the usual political theater of opposing candidates who put on histrionic performances at election time and then are great pals off-stage; what we have seen is an ugliness and a willingness to play with fire that is something different — a willingness on the part of too many on the Republican side to pull down the temple itself if they calculate they might be able to salvage more of the ensuing rubble than the other guys. The Arizona sheriff in whose jurisdiction the shootings took place noted the unprecedented rise in death threats against all public officials that has taken place lately. The Secret Service does not talk about threats against the President but credible reports make clear that President Obama faces threats on a scale unlike anything ever before encountered.
Never mind even the childish braggadocio about "second amendment solutions" and "lock and load"; the daily inflammatory rhetoric about "tyranny" and "the end of freedom as we know it" and even the name "tea party" itself, invoking revolutionary resistance to despotism, have accelerated an unprecedented delegitimization of the democratic process itself, a suggestion that those who advance opposing viewpoints are not just political opponents but usurpers.
[Read the whole post, as well as his follow-up.]