Finally tonight, as promised, a Special Comment on the nine days since Tucson. That awful night, I said this: We need to put the guns down. Just as importantly we need to put the gun metaphors away and permanently. Left, right, middle — politicians and citizens — sane and insane.
This age in which this country would accept "targeting" of political opponents and putting bullseyes over their faces, and of the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows, ended.
I cited seven examples of violent rhetoric from the right; and only one from the left -- my own. Because the point of that Comment and this one was not that the right pulled the trigger in Tucson but that we as citizens must stop the next Loughner, and the only way to potentially do this is to accept personal responsibility and to pledge -- as I said that night -- that "violence, or the threat of violence, have no place in our Democracy, and I apologize for and repudiate any act or any thing in my past that may have even inadvertently encouraged violence."
This afternoon, former President Clinton issued a statement honoring what would have been Dr. King's 82nd birthday:
"...we'd all do well to heed this message. While no one intends their words or actions to incite the violence we saw in Tucson -- and it's wrong for anyone to suggest otherwise - we live in a world where what we say and how we say it can be read, heard, or seen by those who understand exactly what we mean and by those whose inner demons take them to a very different place.
"That's not an argument against free speech, but a reminder that, as with all freedoms, its use carries with it responsibility. Therefore, we should follow the example Dr. King set and exercise our freedom of speech in ways that both clarify our honest differences and nurture the best of us rather than bring out the worst."
Yet the response?
To date, only one commentator or politician has expressed the slightest introspection, the slightest self-awareness, the slightest remorse, the slightest ownership, of the existence of the fantasy dream cloud of violent language by which we are now nearly blinded.
"Our political discourse," John McCain wrote in an otherwise steaming serving of Washington Post Op-Ed partisan flab, "should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so."
One individual assumed any personal responsibility for any of it, besides me: John McCain. Not Palin, not Beck. Not Limbaugh, not West. Not Kanjorski, not Malloy. Not O'Reilly, not Angle. Not Jesse Kelly, not President Obama.
It's me and John McCain.
I assume he's like me, not sure whether to laugh, cry, or be proud of that. So what did everybody else say?
They said it was everybody else's fault. And they often said it with more violence than before.
In approximate chronological order:
Last Monday, while most on both sides were looking askance at the wealth of bogus documents that now traditionally follow these things, a writer at the discredited Breitbart site posted the headline, "Whoops! This Changes Things — Loughner's Hero Was Barack Obama."
Jim Hoft breathlessly cited a reference on the 'Free Republic' site to a Facebook page supposedly belonging to Jared Lee Loughner, complete with references to the quote "racist Tea Party" and "fight the Right," and identifying his " heroes" as Obama, Chavez, Che Guevara, and Saul Alinsky.
Mr. Hoft never noticed that on the alleged Loughner facebook page, the word "tyrrany" is misspelled and so is the name Loughner.
Last Monday a conservative radio host in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, complained about the coverage of the Giffords shooting by The New York Times, Bob Durgin said "Somebody ought to burn that paper down. Just go to New York and blow that sucker right out of the water."
Mr. Durgin's supervisor, one R.J. Harris, then improbably claimed "we do not advocate violence, period. That's why this whole outcry over the shootings in Tucson being linked to talk radio is just crazy."
Last Monday, another radio announcer named Rush Limbaugh dismissed Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik as a "liberal," even though last August Fox News was proud to host Dupnik as he rescinded his opposition to the Arizona Papers-Please Law once its racial-profiling was toned down; and the year before Dupnik criticized as "catering to illegals."
Limbaugh in fact blamed Dupnik for the shootings and added, "My guess is the sheriff wouldn't mind if the shooter was acquitted." Mr. Limbaugh also said, "I would wager that the sheriff knew of this shooter long before this event," which was brave of Mr. Limbaugh, considering the sheriff had said as much two days previously.
Last Monday, Glenn Beck posted what he claimed was a call for non-violence on his Website alongside a shot of him posing with a gun. His pledge was a labyrinthine demand that everyone renounce violence, provided that liberals renounced a 78-year old woman named... named... well, what's the difference? She's just the latest target of a man enjoying a sequence of paranoid delusions — he'll be obsessed with somebody else within the week.
On Tuesday, Republican Congressman Peter King of New York offered a limited, but useful prohibition against carrying weapons within a thousand feet of federally elected officials. But the leader of his party in the House, Speaker Boehner, immediately rejected it, out of hand, without public comment, or any hearing.
On Tuesday, another radio announcer, Mark Levin, wrapped up the case for his audience: "We all know without question that the murderer in Tucson was mentally ill, a liberal pothead and all the rest of it. We know this for a fact." On Tuesday, after Mr. Levin and yet another radio announcer, Michael Savage, were decried for using violent rhetoric, Mr. Savage called this a "blood libel" and threatened to sue, seemingly as much for having been linked to Mr. Levin, as for having been linked to violent rhetoric.
On Tuesday, Congressman West of Florida said he had "no regrets" for any of the violent rhetoric he had used in his campaign. Mr. West did not address why **after** the Tucson shootings this video of his first choice to be his Chief of Staff, Joyce Kaufman, had been pulled from You Tube (since, restored):
"I am convinced that the most important things the Founding Fathers did to insure my first amendment rights was to give me a second amendment. And if ballots don't work, bullets will."
Mr. West did say he was concerned about "the political opportunism that has come out of this." He observed that pointing fingers about violent rhetoric was "kind of deplorable and unconscionable this is not the time to start looking for, you know, grandstanding and things of that nature."
On Wednesday, a high school friend of Jared Laughner's said, "he did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio."
Blogger Hoft of the Breitbart site thereupon called for Sheriff Dupnik's resignation, ignoring the rather obvious fact that there is a way one can avoid radio or television and still be extremely political. It's called "the Internet" and is popular with bloggers, like Mr. Hoft.
Later, a high school girlfriend would say Loughner was "strongly opinionated" and would be set off by "things about the government, things about politics… anything that pretty much had to do with the government." On Wednesday, conservative blogger John Hawkins announced this was all a liberal plot: "Keith Olbermann, Kos, David Brock. All of them are thrilled Gabrielle Giffords was shot. They couldn't be happier about it. How bout that?"
On Wednesday, former Governor Palin of Alaska seemingly destroyed whatever her career was with an opportunistic video in which she identified the real victim here: herself.
She too invoked a "blood libel," possibly as a dog-whistle to the ultra-religious right. And she almost literally said that while her words could not have caused violence, words critical of her words, they could cause violence.
On Wednesday, Arizona Congressman Trent Franks determined that the tragedy was that there just weren't more bullets flying in that Tucson parking lot. "I wish there had been one more gun there that day in the hands of a responsible person, that's all I have to say."
Representative Franks was apparently unaware that there was "one more gun there that day." A man named Joe Zamudio was carrying, and walked into the carnage. He saw another man with a gun in his hands, and was, by his own calculation, one second away from drawing his own and firing. That's when he realized the man had taken the gun away from the shooter. Mr. Zamudio had nearly shot one of the heroes. As Mr. Zamudio put it "I was really lucky."
On Thursday after President Obama's remarks at the Tucson Memorial, Breitbart's Mr. Hoft, shaking off his embarrassment over quoting the fake Loughner Facebook page, returned for more. "Oops!...It Looks Like Obama Fibbed About Giffords "Opening Her Eyes For the First Time."
Then Giffords' physicians confirmed, yes, the Gillibrand/Pelosi/Wasserman-Schultz visit was the first time the Congresswoman had opened her eyes spontaneously or at length. She had previously only done so, and only done so briefly, when prodded by doctors.
Doubling down, Hoft then claimed there was an applause sign flashed during the president's remarks. In fact it was the closed-captioning on the arena video screen, informing the hearing-challenged that there had been applause.
On Friday, Bill Kelly of The Washington Times, took to heart the message in Mr. Obama's comments to heart. "With the monolith of hooting fans, it wouldn't surprise me that Obama supporters were actually bussed in for the memorial. Were they union employees or members of ACORN used to pepper the crowd to ensure conformity?"
Mr. Kelly then used the "blood libel" line himself and added "I'm not going to have my words, idioms, or expressions censored by the left because they see, in this crisis, a political opportunity to advance their agenda."
On Friday, the former counsel to President Clinton, Lanny Davis, now reduced to being a paid contributor to Fox News, explained what he took away from this president's remarks: that Mr. Obama should now publicly ask me to stop attacking Bill O'Reilly.
On Friday, Tucson Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries explained the Giffords shooting to the English newspaper "The Guardian." "It's political gamesmanship. The real case is that she had no security at this event."
James Eric Fuller, one of those wounded at this event, himself a traumatized Vietnam vet, referred to the "Tea Party crime syndicate" and said he believed that in the Giffords shooting, it had claimed its "first target."
On Saturday, in a decision smacking of the tawdriness of the Maury Povich Show, Mr. Fuller was seated in the first row of an ABC News Town Hall in Tucson -- with Mr. Humphries of the Tea Party on the stage. When Humphries suggested talk of gun control be deferred until after all the victims were buried, Mr. Fuller stood up and started to shout at Humphries, "You're dead." Mr. Fuller was, quite appropriately, arrested, and removed for psychological evaluation. He has today apologized, and Mr. Humphries has said he does not feel threatened necessarily and wants Fuller to get psychological help.
On Saturday, Michael Carroll, State Assemblyman of the 25th District of New Jersey, wrote an op-ed rebutting President Obama: "An armed populace is the greatest bulwark of freedom. Our framers understood that, and envisioned a society akin to Switzerland, in which every citizen is armed and responsible for his own defense, and that of the state."
Assemblyman Carroll not only responded to President Obama's remarks by painting an America with a gun under every bed. He also -- of course -- compared Obama to the Nazis: "Germany elected Hitler, who seized all private firearms to consolidate his murderous tyranny."
And lastly, on Saturday, five days after the blogger Hoft scrubbed the post about the fake Facebook Loughner page with "Loughner" misspelled as "Laughner," Doug Giles of TownHall.com cited it as gospel, as if it hadn't been utterly discredited: "Loughner's 'hero list' (according to Facebook) includes Barack Obama."
Two days later, Giles' claim still sits, uncorrected, on that Website.
Nine days have passed, and the willful blindness hasn't even slowed down yet. Besides the total absence of even the glimmer of personal responsibility that Senator McCain and I have evinced, we learn from all this that the right lives in a perpetual state of victimhood.
We learn that the right doesn't even recognize the irony of its claim of being unfairly blamed for the violence of others, when it has spent the last several years doing exactly that to Muslims — particularly American Muslims. We also learn that the right can simultaneously insist no political party or inclination can be blamed for Tucson — while it itself blames the Democratic party and the left, for Tucson.
We learn that the Right does not understand that if you — if we— foment a political environment in which politics are to be settled by violence, or the threat of violence, or in a rhetorical tide of violent imagery, it no longer matters what those politics specifically are, or if the hearer even understands your politics or agrees with your politics — he may hear only the permission to be violent.
And ultimately we learn — especially from Mrs. Palin's foolishness — this template of what the right would do in an actual open-and-shut slam dunk case in which a partisan of the right attempted to kill one of the left. The right would blame that victim blame him or her for not having brought enough security. Or for not having brought a gun.