The Disconnect in Arizona

"We need to end the rhetoric of hate in our country.  Period."  That's the caption a Facebook friend of mine straddled atop a link on her profile page to the New York Times.

Here's how the Times article, an op-ed by Carl Hulse and Kate Zernike, begins:

The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation's political culture.

Hulse and Zernike predictably bring their article back to the vigorous town hall meetings spurred by members of the nascent Tea Party in 2009.  From august papers of record to obscure blogs, we've heard a lot over the past several months about how angry Tea Partiers are.  And commentators everywhere, from Hot Air to our own American Thinker, have made note of the widespread effort to blame the Loughner shooting on specific third parties like Sarah Palin.

Now, I can go on repeating what every other pundit has said already.  I can reiterate that Sarah Palin is no more responsible for this ghastly event than Keith Olbermann is, and I can run through all the violent rhetoric in which the left, from the MSM (warning: spoilers!) all the way up to the top, has engaged over the past few (or many) years.

But you don't need me to tell you this.  Put aside the fact that dozens of pundits have done this sort of legwork already and consider that this is the age of the internet.  Anyone can type "Obama violent rhetoric" or "Roosevelt violent rhetoric" into a search bar and trawl the results.

Here is what we need to know: was Jared Loughner spurred to violence by graphics of crosshairs or the word "targeting"?  The correct answer might stay buried for months, depending on how the courts handle Loughner's case -- but by keening about "the rhetoric of hate," liberals have forced the question.  Since liberal hand-wringers are drawing conclusions about our national rhetoric now, we must look at the evidence we have now.

This is from one of the videos on Loughner's putative YouTube channel: "If B.C.E. years are unable to start then A.D.E. years are unable to begin.  B.C.E. years are unable to start.  Thus, A.D.E. years are unable to begin."  I have to blink several times before I can think about even thinking about how absurd this statement is.  (And what about "conscience dreaming"?  Does he mean "conscious dreaming"?)  And if Loughner's all-but-trademark perversions of basic logic aren't enough, we're getting even more indicators by the hour that the kid was nuts.

The list of influential books on Loughner's putative YouTube channel includes Mein Kampf.  It also includes We the Living.  What it doesn't include is any indication whatsoever that Loughner acted thanks to modern political rhetoric of any kind.

Now take another look at the Hulse-Zernike excerpt above.  "While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man ... contained antigovernment ramblings."  Again, no indication of violent rhetoric as a causative agent.  But the authors are scrambling to reach their conclusion: even if the "exact motivations" remain "unclear," "[r]egardless of what led to the episode," by God, we are going to have this discussion about violent rhetoric in the political arena (with a pointed wag of the finger at the Tea Party).

That's all well and good, but to paraphrase our rhetorician-in-chief, let's be clear about this.  The premise is that Loughner tried to kill a congresswoman.  The ostensible conclusion is that we need to address the violence in our national political discourse.  But the conclusion does not follow from the premise; barring further evidence, Giffords's occupation alone doesn't reasonably account for Loughner's motivation.  And it doesn't warrant the widespread media reaction, either.  What if Loughner had tried to kill a chef?  Would people be agitating for "soul-searching" on our national culinary discourse?

Take as a contrast the case of Nidal Hasan, the Muslim soldier who killed thirteen people and wounded thirty others at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009.  Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar" as he opened fire.  He shared an intimate correspondence with Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born imam famous for his outspoken support of terrorist acts against America (violent rhetoric here!).  Hasan had "SoA(SWT)," which stands for "Soldier of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta'all [glory to God])" printed on his business card.

Here was a potent example of violent political rhetoric inciting a man to violence.  There was a miles-long trail from Hasan to the bloodthirsty speech that helped animate him; the dots lay bare for anyone to connect.  We had a crystal-clear aggressor group (extremist Muslims) employing violent rhetoric against a crystal-clear victim group (Americans, and in particular American soldiers).  But where was the clarion call for "soul-searching" in the months and years leading up to November 2009?

Here's the bottom line: if you want to have a conversation about violent rhetoric in American politics, then be my guest.  Personally, I'm not concerned if Sarah Palin puts crosshairs on an electoral map -- I think nutcases will be nutcases, and not even the abolishment of the concept of crosshairs will stop them.  But regardless of your personal opinion, there is no connection between Loughner's shooting spree and violent political rhetoric (which is, as Howard Kurtz notes, ubiquitous).  It's correlation without causation.  To treat it as anything else comes off as riding a wave of tragedy for political points -- and maybe we should do some soul-searching about that.

Drew Belsky is associate editor of American Thinker.
"We need to end the rhetoric of hate in our country.  Period."  That's the caption a Facebook friend of mine straddled atop a link on her profile page to the New York Times.

Here's how the Times article, an op-ed by Carl Hulse and Kate Zernike, begins:

The shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others at a neighborhood meeting in Arizona on Saturday set off what is likely to be a wrenching debate over anger and violence in American politics.

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation's political culture.

Hulse and Zernike predictably bring their article back to the vigorous town hall meetings spurred by members of the nascent Tea Party in 2009.  From august papers of record to obscure blogs, we've heard a lot over the past several months about how angry Tea Partiers are.  And commentators everywhere, from Hot Air to our own American Thinker, have made note of the widespread effort to blame the Loughner shooting on specific third parties like Sarah Palin.

Now, I can go on repeating what every other pundit has said already.  I can reiterate that Sarah Palin is no more responsible for this ghastly event than Keith Olbermann is, and I can run through all the violent rhetoric in which the left, from the MSM (warning: spoilers!) all the way up to the top, has engaged over the past few (or many) years.

But you don't need me to tell you this.  Put aside the fact that dozens of pundits have done this sort of legwork already and consider that this is the age of the internet.  Anyone can type "Obama violent rhetoric" or "Roosevelt violent rhetoric" into a search bar and trawl the results.

Here is what we need to know: was Jared Loughner spurred to violence by graphics of crosshairs or the word "targeting"?  The correct answer might stay buried for months, depending on how the courts handle Loughner's case -- but by keening about "the rhetoric of hate," liberals have forced the question.  Since liberal hand-wringers are drawing conclusions about our national rhetoric now, we must look at the evidence we have now.

This is from one of the videos on Loughner's putative YouTube channel: "If B.C.E. years are unable to start then A.D.E. years are unable to begin.  B.C.E. years are unable to start.  Thus, A.D.E. years are unable to begin."  I have to blink several times before I can think about even thinking about how absurd this statement is.  (And what about "conscience dreaming"?  Does he mean "conscious dreaming"?)  And if Loughner's all-but-trademark perversions of basic logic aren't enough, we're getting even more indicators by the hour that the kid was nuts.

The list of influential books on Loughner's putative YouTube channel includes Mein Kampf.  It also includes We the Living.  What it doesn't include is any indication whatsoever that Loughner acted thanks to modern political rhetoric of any kind.

Now take another look at the Hulse-Zernike excerpt above.  "While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man ... contained antigovernment ramblings."  Again, no indication of violent rhetoric as a causative agent.  But the authors are scrambling to reach their conclusion: even if the "exact motivations" remain "unclear," "[r]egardless of what led to the episode," by God, we are going to have this discussion about violent rhetoric in the political arena (with a pointed wag of the finger at the Tea Party).

That's all well and good, but to paraphrase our rhetorician-in-chief, let's be clear about this.  The premise is that Loughner tried to kill a congresswoman.  The ostensible conclusion is that we need to address the violence in our national political discourse.  But the conclusion does not follow from the premise; barring further evidence, Giffords's occupation alone doesn't reasonably account for Loughner's motivation.  And it doesn't warrant the widespread media reaction, either.  What if Loughner had tried to kill a chef?  Would people be agitating for "soul-searching" on our national culinary discourse?

Take as a contrast the case of Nidal Hasan, the Muslim soldier who killed thirteen people and wounded thirty others at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009.  Hasan shouted "Allahu Akbar" as he opened fire.  He shared an intimate correspondence with Anwar Al-Awlaki, an American-born imam famous for his outspoken support of terrorist acts against America (violent rhetoric here!).  Hasan had "SoA(SWT)," which stands for "Soldier of Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta'all [glory to God])" printed on his business card.

Here was a potent example of violent political rhetoric inciting a man to violence.  There was a miles-long trail from Hasan to the bloodthirsty speech that helped animate him; the dots lay bare for anyone to connect.  We had a crystal-clear aggressor group (extremist Muslims) employing violent rhetoric against a crystal-clear victim group (Americans, and in particular American soldiers).  But where was the clarion call for "soul-searching" in the months and years leading up to November 2009?

Here's the bottom line: if you want to have a conversation about violent rhetoric in American politics, then be my guest.  Personally, I'm not concerned if Sarah Palin puts crosshairs on an electoral map -- I think nutcases will be nutcases, and not even the abolishment of the concept of crosshairs will stop them.  But regardless of your personal opinion, there is no connection between Loughner's shooting spree and violent political rhetoric (which is, as Howard Kurtz notes, ubiquitous).  It's correlation without causation.  To treat it as anything else comes off as riding a wave of tragedy for political points -- and maybe we should do some soul-searching about that.

Drew Belsky is associate editor of American Thinker.

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