by Max Brantley
As expected, the debate rages on whether angry political discourse, video games and other elements of our culture encourage action by people like the accused shooter of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whatever his motivating political philosophy (good luck with that) might be.
It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.
Last spring Politico.com reported on a surge in threats against members of Congress, which were already up by 300 percent. A number of the people making those threats had a history of mental illness — but something about the current state of America has been causing far more disturbed people than before to act out their illness by threatening, or actually engaging in, political violence.
And there’s not much question what has changed. As Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff responsible for dealing with the Arizona shootings, put it, it’s “the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business.” The vast majority of those who listen to that toxic rhetoric stop short of actual violence, but some, inevitably, cross that line.
After a brief bow to the fact that people on all points of the spectrum engage in hot rhetoric, Krugman undoubtedly jumpstarted a tsunami from the vast rightwing conspiracy with this:
Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.
...Of course, the likes of Mr. Beck and Mr. O’Reilly are responding to popular demand. Citizens of other democracies may marvel at the American psyche, at the way efforts by mildly liberal presidents to expand health coverage are met with cries of tyranny and talk of armed resistance. Still, that’s what happens whenever a Democrat occupies the White House, and there’s a market for anyone willing to stoke that anger.
Who knows? A Clinton administration spokesman says in an article about the political debates the shootings have engendered that the best way to take political advantage is to not attempt to take political advantage. Let people draw their own conclusions. Probably sound advice. It shouldn't take encouragement from me or anyone else for people to consider whether Arizona's encouragement of both unregulated concealed and open possession of hand-carried weapons of mass destruction made 20 people in Tucson safer Saturday. Perhaps the majority will conclude the episode is an argument for similar and even more permissive laws in Arkansas.
The New York Times has photos and more background on all the victims, from congresswoman and judge to a child and several retirees.