by Max Brantley
The New York Times has updated its overview of the shootings in Arizona. The death toll remains at six. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and five others remain in critical condition. She is still unconscious.
UPDATE: The intriguing news this morning was the search for an older man who might have a connection to the shooter in custody. A picture of an older man taken on store security camera was released Sunday morning. But, though he had not been located by the afternoon, authorities said at an afternoon news conference that they had developed information that led them to believe he was not involved.
The suspected shooter, Jared Loughner, is not talking to authorities. Doctors continue to express optimism about Giffords recovery, though they said this was a critical time in the recuperative process. She has been able to respond, such as by raising two fingers, in response to doctors, which indicates cognition. She has not spoken and is being kept in an induced coma.
In the world of comment and fallout:
The right-wing has from the outset attacked anyone who's mentioned the emotional political issues in which Giffords was involved and the obvious honest debate spurred by a gun crime in which a semi-automatic weapon with an extended magazine was used in a state where open carry is vigorously promoted and no permit is required for concealed carry. But it would be dishonest and incomplete reporting not to mention the multiple threats that victims in this shooting have experienced. It would be dishonest and incomplete not to examine the shooter's motivation, including if he proves to be a left-wing radical (though incoherently confused is looking like a better bet at this point). When a member of Congress and a federal judge are shot, it is a political act with political consequences. The House has postponed a vote on health care reform repeal next week. Agencies are reviewing the need for greater security for members of Congress and judges. There will be inevitable debates about the need for more or less gun control. There certainly will be a continuing discussion of angry rhetoric and overheated metaphors in political discourse (from whatever end of the political spectrum) and whether they can influence unintended consequences. (And more on that topic here.) People certainly are free to continue to draw bullseyes on political opponents. Voters also remain free to reject those who do. I reject those who say it is a provocation and politicization to take note of all these obvious facts. The provocation and politicization came from Jared Loughner's tortured mind and his gun barrel.
James Fallows said it well yesterday, in recalling assassins on both the left and right.
So the train of logic is:
1) anything that can be called an "assassination" is inherently political;
2) very often the "politics" are obscure, personal, or reflecting mental disorders rather than "normal" political disagreements. But now a further step,
3) the political tone of an era can have some bearing on violent events. The Jonestown/Ryan and Fromme/Ford shootings had no detectable source in deeper political disagreements of that era. But the anti-JFK hate-rhetoric in Dallas before his visit was so intense that for decades people debated whether the city was somehow "responsible" for the killing. (Even given that Lee Harvey Oswald was an outlier in all ways.)
That's the further political ramification here. We don't know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we'll never "understand." But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac's famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed — including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk — on rallies, on cable TV, in ads — about "eliminating" opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say "don't retreat, reload."
Here's a link to the Pima County sheriff who spoke forcefully on the political atmosphere yesterday.
Mother of 9-year-old girl slain says "stop the hatred."