The Right’s Responsibility for the Tucson Shooting

by A. Jay Adler on January 27, 2011
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The Washington Post provided fascinating news about Jared Lee Loughner yesterday.

In the weeks and days before the shooting rampage in Tucson, suspect Jared Lee Loughner surfed the Internet on his computer in what investigators believe was an effort to prepare for his alleged assassination attempt, law enforcement sources familiar with the investigation said.

Loughner pulled up several Web sites about lethal injections and solitary confinement in prison, said the sources, who asked to be anonymous because the investigation is ongoing. He also viewed Internet sites about political assassins, according to an analysis of Loughner’s computer that was completed by investigators last week, the sources said.

Police seized Loughner’s computer when they forcibly entered his family home in Tucson on Jan. 8, shortly after the shooting outside a Safeway that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

“The impression investigators have is that he was trying to educate himself on assassinations and also research the consequences,” said one source close to the investigation. The source said Loughner pulled up sites that explained the process and effects of lethal injections.

There are two points to be made regarding this news. First, while Right Wing politicians and mouthpieces were eager to take sneering umbrage at suggestions that their insinuations of political violence over the past two years might have played a role in sparking the  shooting – heatedly offering that liberals were too quick to draw conclusions – the same hacks and howlers were not slow themselves to conclude, with no clinical assessment having been made, that Loughner was some kind of crazy person, how dare anyone pretend otherwise, now let’s move on. Regardless of any psychiatric evaluation forthcoming, we have in this WaPo report news likely to hold profound legal significance.

Insanity defenses typically hold that defendants were incapable of comprehending the consequences of their actions or that they were unable to comprehend that what they were doing was wrong. Diminished capacity defenses typically are based on whether defendants had the capacity to form the intent to commit the crime. Loughner’s surfing activity the night before the shooting powerfully undermines any of these contentions. It is manifest that he had a very specific kind of intent – political assassination – and that he was cognizant of the legal injunction against it.

Second, Loughner’s investigation into the subject of political assassination argues persuasively in answer to the question that I and others have raised: if the act was merely the violent outburst of an unstable mind, why was it not targeted at people in Loughner’s life against whom he might have felt personal anger – employers who had fired him and the college that had expelled him, for instance? As I have also argued before, causation is often a complex matter. While the Right argued that it was liberals who were seeking simple answers, it was, in fact, the Right, in seeking quickly to attribute the cause of the shooting to no more than mental instability, that was attempting conveniently to simplify and dismiss and to absolve itself of responsibility for its behavior the past two years. Others on the Right – the lowest hacks of all – mentally groped among the incoherent details of Loughner’s cracked reading list and interests to find, for instance, the Communist Manifesto and declare him a Leftist. But the the essential point has never been – regardless of what anyone on Right or Left has said – whatever could be claimed to serve as Loughner’s politics. The essential point has never been whether a direct line of influence could be found between Loughner and Sarah Palin, or Michele Bachman, or Sharon Angle, or Glenn Beck, or many others. The true matter of significance is whether an atmosphere exists in the country, whether it has been created in the country, in which, indeed, a person mostly likely of doubtful moral or mental capacity might explode in politically conceived or characterized violence – and what are the forces, who are the agents, who have fostered that atmosphere. In fact, people had already exploded in such violence multiple times, and the influences on them have been repeatedly revealed.

The hypocrisy of the Right, second in import only to its shameful flirtation with violence ever since the first Black president was elected, has been its flight in argument from the very case for cultural influence on social reality that the Right itself has been making for decades, and that most people reasonably believe. Here is The Washington Times from 2007:

A new cultural-values survey of 2,000 American adults performed by the polling firm of Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates for the Culture and Media Institute reveals a strong majority, 74 percent, believes moral values in America are weaker than they were 20 years ago. Almost half, 48 percent, agree that values are much weaker than they were 20 years ago.

For most, a leading indicator of moral decline is the media. Clearly, Americans look into their television sets and get a high-definition dose of Hollywood’s take on values. Sixty-eight percent of Americans in the survey said the media are having a detrimental effect on moral values in America.

Americans place heavier blame on the entertainment media, but they blame the news media as well, with its emphasis on sex, violence and ditzy head-shaving celebrities. Why do even supposedly serious news outlets devote hours of airtime to airheads like Paris Hilton, whose ticket to fame was her old-wealth surname and her talent on “private” sex tapes?

The agreement is remarkable across political and religious subsets. Not only do 73 percent believe the entertainment media has a negative effect on America’s commitment to moral values, that’s a sentiment shared by Republicans (86 percent) and Democrats (68 percent); conservatives (80 percent) and liberals (64 percent); even religious types identified as orthodox (82 percent) and mostly secular progressives (62 percent).

Here, too, is the Cato Institute on “Welfare and the Culture of Poverty.” Repeatedly, for more than three decades the American Right has argued that our political, social, and artistic cultures are recursive influences on themselves and each other. Only when the Right is confronted with its own excesses does it cravenly and dishonestly retreat from the principles of causal influence it has long promoted.

In these intensely partisan political days (but, really, more so than the late 60s and the 70s?) “moderation” has become a cant ideal. But moderation as any kind of meaningful value must refer not to extremity, but to excess. These are not the same notion. When Barry Goldwater famously declared at the 1964 Republican convention that “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice,” he was right. What else did Patrick Henry mean when he thundered to the 1775 Virginia convention, “Give me liberty or give me death”? When Goldwater completed his antithesis by declaring, “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue,” what else was he saying but what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote just a year earlier in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”? Moderation, if it is to be meaningful, must refer to a balance in temperament and judiciousness of judgment, not some weak and statistically-styled mean of articulated opinion that seeks to distribute moral responsibility like a tax rebate. Excess is wrong by definition. An extremity, arrived at by that judicious temperament and balanced judgment, may be liberty in contrast to tyranny, the truth in opposition to a lie.

The record is clear and overwhelming that for over two years the political Right in the United States rhetorically and symbolically flirted, in hope of arousing a response, with hysterical conjurings of oppressive government and the idea of political insurrection. Though all around, those on the Right deny their excesses and any consequence to them, in the aftermath of Tucson conservatives now mostly withdraw in their conduct, in tacit acknowledgment that they went too far. To claim that there was equality of offense on Right and Left – moderation in the apportionment of responsibility for a climate of intolerance and threat – is plainly contradicted by the evidence, and a self-delusion or a lie.



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