09 January 2011


The assassination attempt in Arizona in which 5 were killed and 7 were wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (who is in critical condition), was shocking, grievous and outrageous. Though I know they are little consolation, I offer my prayers for the victims, their families and their friends - no one should have to go through this.

This was to all appearances a politically-motivated shooting. Though I have no doubt some are even at this moment claiming this as the work of a lone individual with mental problems (which, by all appearances, is true), this seems to me to miss the larger picture. People with mental problems generally have a lesser degree of self-control than do sane people, and are more susceptible to outside influence; their actions tend to reflect their environment. And the rhetorical environment within which this took place was incredibly toxic; though ultimately only the shooter is responsible for his own actions, the linguistic context within which this shooting takes place reveals some incredibly disturbing tendencies (primarily a ‘lock and load’ idiom which indulges in paranoid fantasies of an oppressive central government which can only be addressed through violent revolt by armed ‘sovereign individuals’) coming from the far economic right. So to Ms Palin and Mr Boehner, both of whom have come forward with their condolences, I say good on them, but they must go further: true repentance for their own visible roles in fostering a volatile political climate which seems to be growing ever more dangerous. Only time will tell if those condolences end up being anything approaching sincere.

EDIT: I agree with Sheriff Dupnik. Also, Congresswoman Giffords appears to be on the mend. My further prayers for her swift recovery.


  1. I think you're trying to have it both ways here. The shooter was indeed mentally ill, and the issues which actuated him were not, by all appearances, health care reform. There's no accounting for the actions of the deranged, and I think it's intellectually irresponsible to somehow suggest a connection between the ravings of Alaska's ex-governor and the senseless actions of a young mentally ill individual, based entirely on the principle that Person A used violent rhetoric regarding Person B, then Person B was a year later shot by Person C for reasons unrelated to Person A.

    I'm afraid I have difficulty making any kind of connection, perhaps because I'm not all that bright. When I read "linguistic context" my eyes glazed over. Given this framework almost any violent act against any political figure, no matter the root cause, can be blamed on whomever you like because they've used language you find over the top and objectionable. I think if you're serious about moderating the present political environment this is a poor place to start. Sarah Palin didn't shoot Giffords. A 22-year with a history of mental problems, who by all rights ought to have been institutionalized, was.

    There's no accounting for the worldview of the mentally ill. The absence of other such "politically motivated" shootings I think argues quite strongly against a thesis which lays the blame on our idiot political figures.

  2. First of all, I agree with you that Ms Palin did not shoot Ms Giffords. However, given that I never said such a thing, I fail to see what relevance it has to my actual argument. Indeed, I was fairly careful not to blame Ms Palin for anything more than toxic and violent rhetoric (of which she is indeed culpable).

    Secondly, I take issue with this idea that 'there is no accounting' for the 'senseless' actions of the mentally ill. The entire nature of mental illness is that an external condition is impairing the ability of the affected person to think critically, independently or rationally. Whenever we say someone is mentally ill, we ARE in fact accounting for their behaviour.

    [Indeed, by all the accounts I've read so far, Loughner subscribed to a conspiracy theory of government 'brainwashing' and had a fixation on hard currency (mirroring fairly closely several memes which have shown up fairly consistently among the far right over the past two years). Is it really that great a leap of logic to believe he might have been influenced by extremist right-wing rhetoric?]

    Let me be completely clear here: I am blaming no one but the gunman for the shooting. But I am convinced that these new Republicans need to stop playing this sick game wherein they call for the blood of their political opponents (as they did to Ms Giffords on multiple occasions), only to distance themselves from that rhetoric when someone who might actually have taken them seriously actually does spill blood. I do not think taking this position involves wanting it both ways at all.

  3. But again, you don't have any proof whatsoever that this person did take them seriously, and Republicans hold no monopoly on vitriolic rhetoric.

    Indeed, you never said Sarah Palin shot Giffords, but my point is that you're doing your level best to somehow make this senseless tragedy her fault, or a teachable moment, or something other than what it is: an isolated act by a mentally ill 22-year old whose views in no way resemble those of the Republican Party, Tea Party, Democratic Party or the house party down the street.

    For my part (and I'm not a Republican), I find this very offensive. A belief in government brain-washing is not confined to the right. While many on the right are concerned about sound money, the things he's said on the subject are more the ravings of an anarchist who hates responsibility, not a disciple of the Austrian school.

    In any event, we're talking about someone who, by definition, is irrational. So irrational that his college wouldn't take him back until he had a mental evaluation, that the army (with all its manpower problems) wouldn't accept his services, that people around him feared his presence. Given all this, it almost goes without saying that if he in fact was responding to right-wing rhetoric (to accept your point) it was the irrational response of a disturbed, irrational person.

    Surely we're not going to allow our society to be defined by such responses?

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  5. I'm sorry that you feel offended, naturally, but I can't really say I'm doing anything other than attempting to keep this civil. That said, I have little to no sympathy for the kind of fallacious false equivalence you're making here. I haven't heard ANYONE of any prominence on the economic left call for or hint at the gun murder (or any of the various euphemisms like 'Second Amendment remedy') of elected officials or public servants in the opposition. Even during the Bush years, I never heard of any Democrat calling for his assassination. To say that 'Republicans hold no monopoly on vitriolic rhetoric' sounds to me completely disingenous.

    And again, I hold that the unbalanced are MORE susceptible to unbalancing influence from the outside, not less. Loughner should have been institutionalised, certainly. But a completely 'irrational' person would have shot someone at random - I find utterly baffling the insistence that we should not be looking at how and why he selected this particular target rather than some random person in the street.

    EDIT: Actually, I've gone back over my post, and the only reference I made to Ms Palin at all was a commendation for having offered her condolences for good wishes to Ms Giffords and her family, followed by a call to repentance for having used inappropriate 'shooting' rhetoric with regard to Ms Giffords and other public servants. I find utterly bizarre this notion you have that I am trying to blame the shooting on her somehow.

  6. Plenty of people on the left called for Bush's assassination during his presidency; I saw at the college and I saw it online. Perhaps you were still in China when much of this took place and it passed you by. But this is beside the point.

    You don't understand why I bring up Palin. If you agree Palin is irrelevant than fine, but everyone else who has taken your tack has pointed to Palin and her map with crosshairs, so I'm surprised that you find it of no consequence. That being said, when you call for "true repentance for their own visible roles in fostering a volatile political climate which seems to be growing ever more dangerous" in the specific context of this shooting you are either suggesting that they are somehow responsible or making a complete non-sequitur. If it's not relevant than why bring it up?

    Moving right along, I've focused on the shooter because it's clear that he was specifically fixated on Giffords because she was his local rep and had interactions with her (the earliest in 2007) which fueled his paranoid and bizarre worldview. I don't see how to relate this back to the current climate; his motivations for shooting Giffords are about as comprehensible as Squeaky Fromme's for shooting Ford. Furthermore, he did shoot people at random: a typical assassin confines himself to his chosen target. This spraying of bullets is more akin to a workplace shooting than a political assassination.

    We seem to be talking past ourselves, but my point is this: bringing up the violent rhetoric in this context suggests responsibility or guilty hands and I think is meant to be read that way. I reject that, given what we know of the shooter: his act is a local one and unrelated to the national scene.

    If I've mischaracterized your position I do apologize, but this is what I've taken away from it.