Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Processing the Tucson/Giffords Shooting

We all want answers but answers might be hard to come by after a reportedly mentally disturbed 22-year-old opened fire this weekend on a public gathering featuring a U.S. Congresswoman and her constituents outside of a grocery store in Tucson.

We all want it to be easy to be able to point to someone, or a group of people, and say, “There! She’s responsible! She’s the reason why this happened!” or “They did it! Their inflammatory signs made the shooter snap!” or “His parents! They must've been bad!”

But sometimes the uncomfortable fact is that there are no answers because there are unstable people who live in this world who will, one way or another, try to hurt others. And as far as the shooter in Tucson, we might not know for some time whether anything could have been legally or morally done to prevent what happened on Saturday. As we get more information, maybe that question will be addressed more comprehensively. We'll have to wait and see on that front.

In the meantime, it’s sickening to see that the folks who reside on the outer left and right fringes of the political spectrum have their index fingers poised in the pointing position and are blaming the people who hold the polar opposite political beliefs than them for the actions of a mentally unstable individual.

When I was at my daughter’s basketball game on Saturday I was keeping close tabs on the breaking news via Twitter about Rep. Gabby Giffords and the folks who came to see her who police said were gunned down by Jared Loughner. And as news reports were flooding in – many of them containing erroneous information – the blaming started right there on Twitter. It was Sarah Palin’s fault. It was the Tea Partiers. It was talk radio. It was Snooki. (Just kidding, no one blamed Snooki, at least for this incident.) They didn’t wait to see what information we learned about the shooter and his background and whether, in fact, his motivation could be discerned at all. They just impulsively blamed their political foes.

Then the folks on the right got angry and said there was no evidence that the shooter was one of them. Then the finger pointing was returned and the likes of Keith Olbermann and left-leaning bloggers were blamed for THEIR angry words.



I hate watching people try to score political points while a set of parents is burying their 9-year-old daughter who went to visit her congresswoman at an event at grocery store and would up being murdered, and while a congresswoman had parts of her skull removed so the swelling in her brain, through which the bullet traveled, won't cause more damage. This is not the time to try to "score" political points.

So when I read David Brooks’ column in the New York Times this morning, I finally found something with which I could agree:

“These accusations – that political actors, contributed to the murder of 6 people, including a 9-year-old girl – are extremely grave. They were made despite the fact that there was, and is, no evidence that Loughner was part of these movements or a consumer of their literature. They were made despite the fact that the link between political rhetoric and actual violence is extremely murky. They were vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness.

. . . [T]he political opportunism occasioned by this tragedy has ranged from the completely irrelevant to the shamelessly irresponsible.”

Brooks seems to share a similar view on how this whole thing has played out as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart, he of the famous “Rally for Sanity,” of which we could use a whole lot more. (See his commentary above.) I especially loved the part where Stewart said in his monologue:

“We live in a complex ecosystem of influences and motivations and I wouldn’t blame our political rhetoric any more than I would blame heavy metal music for Columbine, and by the way that is coming from somebody who truly hates our political environment. It is toxic. It is unproductive but to say that that is what has caused this . . . that I just don’t think you can do.”

I too want to see more political moderation, want to see the end of the political tactic of transforming and dehumanizing those who don’t believe what you believe into enemies who hate America, ascribing to them all manner of evil (which is why something like a No Labels movement appeals to me). But that’s a discussion for another day. Not today.

I think it’s a sad state of affairs when some of the most sane commentary we’re heard can be found on Comedy Central.


Belle said...

I am one of those who immediately thought of the far-right Republicans when I heard of the shooting. You are right, we must wait until we get all the facts.

Cooley Horner said...

Jon Stewart is, in so many ways, the Cronkite of our ages. I was trying to think of who has spoken about this issue with such thoughtful reflection and pause, and I realized that the faces of the major networks have not done so. Stewart is saying what needs to be said, and I applaud him.

Like Belle above, I also initially suspected the shooter was motivated by vitriol from the far-right. While it's increasingly clear that this guy was unhinged and likely without political motivations, I think it should give us all pause that for even a moment we suspected something we'd said could be at the root of this tragedy. Even if harsh words, accusations, and outlandish theories (often for the sake of ratings) were not the actual "cause" for the shooter's violence, that doesn't excuse them, in my opinion.