Via the Daily Caller, it’s depressing that we have to give Barbara credit for making an exceedingly rudimentary point — namely, that it might be hard to fully comprehend the motives of a guy who’s willing to smile for his mug shot after shooting 19 people. Once upon a time not so long ago, the left understood that. Remember Media Matters’ reaction back in September to the nut who went berserk at Discovery Channel HQ in the name of environmentalism? Quote: “Discovery Channel hostage-taker is the perpetrator of a crime-not liberal, conservative or a chance to score points.” No sense looking for a coherent motive in a kaleidoscopic mind, in other words — unless, I guess, the victim was a Democrat. By that logic, since he targeted Reagan, wasn’t John Hinckley necessarily motivated by liberalism? (Answer: No.)
Incidentally, I had a brief (and polite) Twitter debate yesterday morning with David Frum about whether this incident should be used as a reason to call for toning down political rhetoric. I think that’s all to the good in the abstract; as I said in this post, you never know what innocently intended remark might set a diseased mind off. Three problems, though. One: What’s too far? We can agree that thinly veiled calls for violence should be no go, but Palin’s crosshairs map wasn’t a call for violence. It was a standard metaphor for “targeting” incumbents’ districts playing off of her “mama grizzly” hunting schtick. How far do we have to water down passionate political rhetoric to make it loony-proof? Two: There should be some factual basis in this story for worrying about political rhetoric in order to turn it into a soapbox for that, no? If not, then there’s no conceptual limit on exploiting it. Any political agenda can and should pick it up and run with it. E.g., maybe PETA should run a piece on how Loughner might have been calmer and more stable if he had more pets to give him love. Prevent a mass murder by adopting a shelter kitty today! Three: Like I said during the Terry Jones Koran-burning insanity and the Discovery Channel standoff, I’m uncomfortable with blaming polemicists for the actions of violent nuts who are inflamed by them. Media Matters actually summarized it well in the tweet I quoted above; I don’t know where to begin when it comes to categorizing the crazy politically. That won’t stop both sides from playing the blame game whenever one of their own is targeted, but if Terry Jones isn’t to blame for the actions of jihadis who kill in rage over his act, then how are conservative or liberal polemicists to blame for partisan cranks who act out? As much as I dislike Olbermann’s demonization of the right, he hasn’t put a gun in anyone’s hands. Moral agency has to mean something.