Our nation is responding to the senseless murders in Arizona this week. In the coming weeks we will discover more about Jared Loughner, the twenty two year old shooter, than anyone needs to know. He was clearly a deeply troubled, if not mentally ill (Okay, obviously mentally ill) individual.
I am on the record as being critical of current political speech especially by TV and radio personalities as polarizing and counterproductive. There seem to be more conservative pundits with incendiary speech than liberals but the liberals are just as viral if more polished and entertaining.
In this crisis, I am troubled by the political opportunism demonstrated by some on the left. I have seen and read numerous commentaries associating this event with the political right. There is no evidence thus far to link this young shooter to conservatism in general or Sarah Palin in particular. There is no justification for linking him in any way to contemporary political debate. His reported political influences include Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Given the fact that Representative Giffods was Jewish, this influence suggests a plausible theory for his acts of violence to be racism. I suspect however that time will reveal this to be the result of paranoid schizophrenia with a focus on mistrust of authority/political figures and not a cogent political statement.
Further, there is no evidence that I am aware of suggesting rhetorical images of physical struggle or even those of hunting or military conflict (“lock and load”) contribute to political assassinations. Political speech of all stripes has always been peppered with images of physical struggle. I suspect acts of violence against public figures are grounded more in fear (a primary emotion and one at the heart of paranoia) than anger (a secondary emotion).
I don’t recall anybody blaming members of the political left when John Hinkley, Jr. shot Ronald Reagan. If this most recent act of violence was in any way attributable to current political divisions in our nation (and I think not) then both sides are to blame for it is unreasoned evocative blame that is at the heart of the problem. The left blames the right for all of our social ills and the right blames the left for our loss of freedoms. If there is hysteria in our society it is fueled by unreasoned blame and personal attacks and these flow out of arrogance and fear.
It is a natural response to look for answers to questions thrust upon us by violence. It further seems nearly automatic to look or someone to blame when tragedy occurs. Unfortunately, periods of emotional stress leave us ill prepared for clarity of thought and appropriate response. All too often our reactions serve only to solidify our ideological positions and emphasize our social divisions.
In short, I find the current attempt by some to blame the conservatives an expression of the problem. Unreasoned blame of social/political movements and/or persons intensifies and solidifies emotional divisions. To express this type of blame in a time like this is nothing short of political opportunism and I find that very troubling.
There are many things we might legitimately debate in the wake of this tragedy. I would suggest the two most obvious are our nation’s approach to the treatment of mental illness and the control of handguns, and the interplay between these two issues. Yet, even these issues should not be acted upon in the current emotional environment. It is a time to grieve, to comfort, and to pray.
January 10, 2011