“In his superb speech in Tucson Wednesday evening, Barack Obama did great service to the nation. He put to rest the libel that political incivility is responsible for the Tucson shootings. He did so with three words that he added to the written text: ‘It did not.’…
“Obama first came to the favorable attention of the nation at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 when he proclaimed that we were not red states and blue states but red, white and blue America. After months of partisan debate, in which he like others used the military metaphors common in our political vocabulary, he spoke in Tucson as the leader of one nation.
“It will probably help him politically. But, more important, it will help the nation.”
“By the time he spoke in Tucson, Obama had let four days pass while some of the angriest voices in the media — his supporters — either blamed Republicans directly for the killings or blamed the GOP for creating the atmosphere in which the violence took place. During those four days, the president could have cooled the conversation by urging everyone to avoid jumping to conclusions, as he did the day after the November 2009 massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas. But he didn’t. Only after Loughner’s insanity had been indisputably established did Obama concede that politics was not to blame for the shooting.
“By then, however, the president’s supporters had tied the killings to the issue of political rhetoric. In Tucson, Obama played good cop to their bad cop by assuring everyone that rhetoric had not motivated the violence. But he still brought up the topic because, he said, it had ‘been discussed in recent days.’ Of course, it would not have been discussed in recent days had his supporters not made so many unfair accusations.
“Some Democratic strategists hope Obama can capitalize on Tucson the way Bill Clinton capitalized on Oklahoma City. Perhaps he’ll be able to, and perhaps he won’t. But he’s already trying.”
“This isn’t about angry blog posts or verbal fisticuffs. Since Obama’s ascension, we’ve seen repeated incidents of political violence. Just a short list would include the 2009 killing of three Pittsburgh police officers by a neo-Nazi Obama-hater; last year’s murder-suicide kamikaze attack on an I.R.S. office in Austin, Tex.; and the California police shootout with an assailant plotting to attack an obscure liberal foundation obsessively vilified by Beck.
“Obama said, correctly, on Wednesday that ‘a simple lack of civility’ didn’t cause the Tucson tragedy. It didn’t cause these other incidents either. What did inform the earlier violence — including the vandalism at Giffords’s office — was an antigovernment radicalism as rabid on the right now as it was on the left in the late 1960s. That Loughner was likely insane, with no coherent ideological agenda, does not mean that a climate of antigovernment hysteria has no effect on him or other crazed loners out there. Nor does Loughner’s insanity mitigate the surge in unhinged political zealots acting out over the last two years. That’s why so many — on both the finger-pointing left and the hyper-defensive right — automatically assumed he must be another of them.”
“A reaction so disproportionate and immaterial to a news story by a news organization is indicative of trouble in the body politic—trouble almost as severe as that which the Times claims the Giffords shooting indicates. I worry that in the tremors and hysteria of the Times we’re seeing the sad end of liberalism.
“Its passing is to be mourned, perhaps most by true conservatives. -Civilization owes a debt to liberal politics. From the Reform Act and the religious emancipation fight of the British Whigs to the American civil rights movement, liberals have in fact held positions on political high ground (though not during Clinton’s exploitation of the Oklahoma City bombing). Liberals have seen government as a force for good, and sometimes it can be. World War II comes to mind. While conservatives have delighted in the free market, liberals have been there to remind us that all freedoms, including market freedoms, entail responsibilities. At the very least it can be said that we conservatives would not be so upright in our ideals if we hadn’t been pushing against liberals.
“But liberalism, as personified by the New York Times, became a dotty old aunt sometime during the Johnson administration. She’s provincial, eccentric, and holds dull, peculiar views about the world. Still, she has our fond regard, and we visit her regularly in her nursing home otherwise known as Arts and Leisure and the Book Review. Or we did until Sunday, January 9, when she began spouting obscenities and exposing herself.”
FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST: Richard Cohen, do you have answers?
RICHARD COHEN, WASHINGTON POST: I have nothing but answers. I don’t think for a second that Sarah Palin knew the meaning of blood libel. I just don’t. There’s nothing in her background which suggests it. And if she did, I don’t think she used it all that inappropriately. I mean, if it refers to a false accusation for which a community is blamed then she was right.
BERNARD-HENRI LEVY, FRENCH PHILOSOPHER/INTELLECTUAL: Hold on. You think Sarah Palin is stupid enough not to know what a blood libel is?
COHEN: How much time do we have left to talk about how stupid Sarah Palin is?