The man who should burn for the crimes of Jared Lee Loughner is Jared Lee Loughner. Not Rush Limbaugh, who said yesterday that Democrats are supporting the man who shot a Democratic congresswoman in the head:
"What Mr. Loughner knows is that he has the full support of a major political party in this country. He's sitting there in jail. He knows what's going on, he knows that...the Democrat party is attempting to find anybody but him to blame. He knows if he plays his cards right, he's just a victim. He's the latest in a never-ending parade of victims brought about by the unfairness of America...this guy clearly understands he's getting all the attention and he understands he's got a political party doing everything it can, plus a local sheriff doing everything that they can to make sure he's not convicted of murder - but something lesser."
Methinks the demagogue doth protest too much. Indeed, I was impressed by the rapid reaction of tea party mouthpieces and conservative talking heads to Saturday morning's shooting, as well as the constant refrain of victimhood by the right -- as if the whole world is painting the blood on their innocent hands. Sales of the gun Loughner used have skyrocketed; "get one while you still can" is not just a tagline on gun show billboards, it's literally a call to arms in anticipation of a crackdown on freedom.
Democrats, who will probably not see any real gun control legislation out of the tragedy, have nonetheless been accused of exploiting it since about midday Saturday. In practice, of course, the president has made no attempt to round up Glocks and no one has offered First Amendment-killing legislation aimed at the tea party, but why let facts get in the way of paranoid belief-systems? Besides, the whole point of culture wars is that they be continuous, not that they have any basis in fact. In the paranoid universe, it's okay if Emanuel Goldstein isn't real.
I know, I know. Markos reacted almost immediately to the shooting by tweeting Sarah Palin about a "mission accomplished," unfairly blaming Sarah Palin. But she's not responsible for Loughner's trigger-happy atrocity. Those target crosshairs surveyor's symbols weren't to blame, either, just as the birther-racist asshat-apocalypse nut coalition that turned out for Palin's 2008 rallies and became the 2009 tea party does not mean Palin is responsible for the tea party's existence.
Like the rest of us, Loughner was swimming in a tide of tea for at least the last two years while his evident paranoia grew. Indeed, the tea party began as a libertarian Ron Paul phenomenon into which K-Street poured gobs of cash, and Loughner is evidently anarcho-libertarian. Our just-ended cycle saw the fringe come mainstream; Loughner is a fringe character responding to his times, but he pulled the trigger on his own, planned the attack ahead of time, and knew exactly what he was doing. He will burn for it according to Arizona law, and I doubt the state will settle for lesser charges.
No one -- not Palin, not Limbaugh, not Beck -- can or should share the dock with him. They did not pull the trigger, after all, much as they didn't directly cause the seventeen incidents of right-wing violence since Obama's election. The bikers who intimidated Democratic staffers at Allen West's rallies and the Rand Paul campaign donor who stomped on Lauren Valle's head were not taking orders from their candidates, either. As far as legal responsibility goes, Rush is blameless -- and knows it. He's defending something else: his conspiracy theory is a rationalization for listeners to excuse the violence he instills in their minds.
Remember, this is the same political movement that said comic books caused crime, insisted backwards lyrics and role-playing games caused murder-suicide, and still worries that reading a Qur'an makes you into a suicide bomber. They admit no connection between their rhetoric and the permissive atmosphere of paranoid, armed reaction they created with their own words. The party of responsibility is denying responsibility not for Loughner, but for their own words, as if words suddenly have no effect on people.
When we struggle to say what's on our minds, we're at the beginning of language. Thought precedes word or deed, and word usually precedes deed. Words have power; repeated often enough, they become real on their own. In fact, Limbaugh's entire career has consisted of torturing words until they have only the meaning he wants for them -- witness his regular mistreatment of the word "liberal," for instance. Which brings me to Roger Ailes:
I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.
If only the leading lights of the right had heard such sage advice two years ago! But then, they have so little intellectual credibility anymore. Why else would so much right-wing communication have turned to the desperate language of last stands, hate, and militant confrontation? Bombast is all they have left. There will be more Jared Lee Loughners because they cannot help themselves. Their industry exists to pollute the airwaves with cancerous lies; I hold them responsible for Loughner's lymphoma, not his trigger finger.