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.

AJA

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4 comments

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Benjamin January 29, 2011 at 11:29 pm

I did not respond to your “empirical” points because they are all irrelevant. Absolutely no connection has been found between this “atmosphere” you speak of – which is such a vague term in any case that it is essentially meaningless – and Laughner’s actions. More importantly, there appears to be no political basis for his actions at all. Certainly, all the available evidence points to there being none. As such, your verbosity is simply a tactic to avoid facing the real issues: Your irrational hatred of the right, your inability to face the sins of your own side, and your desperate need to blame other people for things they haven’t done. If you find any relevant facts, I will be happy to respond to them. So far, your just spewing out your personal prejudices and obsessions and trying to connect them to Loughner.

As an aside, I think its very telling that you used the “Wanted” poster of JFK. Oswald, of course, was a communist (and probably mentally ill as well) who was completely unaffected by rightwing rhetoric against JFK. The similarities to your ghoulish lies are quite remarkable.

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A. Jay Adler January 30, 2011 at 9:46 am

Well, you’ve failed the only real challenge you’ve had in this exchange. You called me a liar, I challenged you to identify a lie I told, and all you did was call me a liar again and compare me in some entirely unclear way to Lee Harvey Oswald. My, you’re intemperate. There is an indecorous label for someone who argues like this and it refers to congested cattle bowels.

The points you declare irrelevant – it was my post; I do get to say what its claims are – have to do with Right wing hypocrisy. You object in high dudgeon to any attempt to connect Loughner’s act to Right wing behavior, and then proceed, again, to attempt to connect an assassination, instead, to the Left. Thank you for another illustration.

Similarly, you claim not to know what an atmosphere is – you haven’t been following the American political scene for the past two and a half years? – but I provided a link that offers details of it. No doubt, you preferred not to read it. Here it is again. It cries for attention, too, that in your rigorous logic a “vague” term that is “essentially meaningless,” can nonetheless be declared in its insubstantiality to have “absolutely no connection” to Laughner’s actions. What a miracle of transubstantiation. What a floundering fish of an argument.

Further, you state, “More importantly, there appears to be no political basis for his [Loughner's] actions at all.” But the very opening of my post quotes the Washington Post revelation that Loughner had spent the evening before the shooting researching the topic of “political assassination.” Really, you must be able to do better than this.

Finally, you refer to my “irrational hatred of the right” and my “personal prejudices and obsessions.” First, while you may dispute claims I make and conclusions I reach, I offer reasoned argument in support of all of them. “Irrational” here, like “ghoulish lies,” is just brick throwing. I’m sure it makes you feel good, but it makes no case at all. The truth, of course, is that you don’t know me in the least, and haven’t the foggiest what “personal” prejudices or obsessions I might have. However, since you connect all this to some presumed “inability to face the sins of your own side,” here is another challenge for you. Maybe you’ll do better in this one. We both have written records of our opinions. Whose do you think reveals more partisan orthodoxy, whose more independence of thought from his “own side”? Here’s a tip: I apparently know your writing better than you know mine. Don’t wager any money on it. It’s enough that you’ll lose the major, ad hominem share of your attack.

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benjamin January 27, 2011 at 12:43 pm

This is beyond question one of the most dishonest articles I have ever read. Loughner surfing the web for information about assassination in no way proves that he is not mentally ill. Many mentally ill people retain a capacity for practical action and even for differentiating right from wrong. His mental illness may not be enough to vitiate his legal culpability, but it certainly existed. The rest is just disconnected gobbledygook trying desperately to become a logical argument. The truth is that the ONLY evidence we have as to Loughner’s political beliefs besides his internet writings – which clearly indicate severe derangement – is one friend’s testimony that he had none and another friend’s testimony that he was very liberal. I’m not sure which is worse, your ghoulish opportunism on this issue or the pathetic lies you are telling in order to justify it.

Reply

A. Jay Adler January 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Benjamin, your comment is a perfect example of the facile and slippery evasion about which I’ve been writing for the past two weeks. Rather than opportunism – spooky or otherwise – my commentary, amid all of the phony reformation in civility in which such evasion is being draped, is intended not to let you get away with it. Beyond the showy adjectives, like “pathetic,” and the contentless nouns, like “gobbledygook,” you do not address or even recognize the specifics of my argument. Nowhere in any of my posts on this subject, including this one, do I state that Loughner is not mentally ill, yet you devote most of your comment to railing against my non-claim to that effect. What I observed is that while conservatives criticized liberals for too quickly forming judgments about Loughner’s politics, they did not hesitate – as you do not here, still without any clinical evaluation – just as quickly to form judgments about his mental health, all with the clear purpose, to speak of opportunism, of dismissing focus on any other, less convenient causal factors. Maybe this is too fine a point for you. Maybe you need to read more carefully. You similarly avoid addressing, with further convenience, one of my key points, that causal factors are often complex, not the simple either/or formulation that those seeking to avoid uncomfortable truths prefer. Loughner may be mentally ill AND have been subject to other influences. He may be disturbed, but that does not make him, literally, mindless. Is that clear enough? Much of the “gobbledygook” you choose to ignore addresses longstanding conservative claims of social and cultural causation and how – quite remarkably, so I’m remarking on it – conservatives have chosen to abandon those claims in this instance. Is that clear enough? Do you think you can marshal an actual argument in response, or do you want to sling another empty insult? Finally, my main point was that what Loughner’s politic are, specifically, is not the point. Why don’t I simply quote from the post what you ignore?

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.

Is that too uncomfortable a point for you to address? Apparently, since you manage to toss in your own – may I say “pathetic”? – suggestion that Loughner was “very” (not very, very?) liberal.

You call my post “dishonest” and refer to “lies” I tell. A lie is a claim knowingly and verifiably contrary to fact. Would you care to identify any specific claim of fact I make in my post that is even empirically falsifiable? I’ll wait. In the meantime, I suggest you argue more substantively and reason more carefully before you make bold again to issue such condemnation.

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