After virtually every shooting attack in which a gunman took the lives of innocents in this country, the instinct of the mainstream media and the liberal chattering classes has always been to look for a reason to blame conservatives. Whether it was the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords or the Aurora, Colorado movie theater tragedy, the initial assumption by many has been that the violence was the result of incitement or direct involvement by members of the Tea Party movement or other conservative groups. In each instance, the accusations or insinuations have had to be quickly, though often grudgingly, withdrawn when the shooter turned out to be either mentally deranged or devoid of political intent. That leaves us wondering what those who have been so quick to use these tragedies as political soapboxes to denounce conservatives or to promote liberal patent nostrums will say after today’s incident in Washington.
Only the heroism of a security guard who was wounded prevented the shooting attack at the Family Research Council, a Washington think tank devoted to promoting social conservatism, from turning into a massacre. The shooter who barged into the group’s headquarters expressed disagreement with their policies and began shooting. Fortunately, the guard was able to disarm the perpetrator before he could do more harm. His avowal to police that he was there to oppose the FRC’s stands makes it clear that this is an open and shut case of domestic terrorism. The fact that he was carrying a bag from a Chick-fil-A restaurant — the chain that has come under intense fire from left-wingers because of its founder’s public opposition to gay marriage — should cause those who have been working overtime to demonize conservatives to do the same sort of soul-searching liberals ask the right to perform because of gun violence.
Let’s specify that blaming the act of this individual on those activists and writers who have publicly opposed the Family Research Council’s stands is simply wrong. Debate is integral to democracy and it is just as much of a mistake to blame all liberals for the violence of a single leftist as it is to blame all on the right for anything done in their name but without their consent.
But liberals who have often jumped to the conclusion that all Tea Partiers are violent racists because of stray comments from extremists need to remember that such tactics cut both ways. Those who have repeatedly cautioned conservatives to mind their tongues and be careful about using language that would delegitimize their opponents now must think about what they have been saying in recent weeks and months about the so-called “war on women” or supporters of Chick-fil-A. If they thought violent rhetoric emanating from the right was a problem that could be linked to violence, then they must understand that incitement against conservatives is just as noxious. That is all the more true because almost all of the accusations of right-wing involvement in violence have been proven false while the Washington gunman’s statements make it clear that he was motivated by left-wing politics.
Civility is important and the need to speak with respect for one’s opponents and their positions is a lesson that both sides of our great political divide should heed. But as we learned today, it is not one that should be limited to just the right.