Commentary Magazine


Topic: Gabrielle Giffords

Liberal Incivility and the Gun Debate

As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

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As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

I think the Toomey-Manchin proposal was a reasonable compromise that Republicans should have embraced, if only because it could have put this issue to rest without compromising Second Amendment rights. But the refusal of many conservatives as well as some Democrats to accept this idea was not entirely the fault of NRA pressure tactics. The reason why so many that care about gun rights thought of Manchin-Toomey as the thin edge of the wedge of an effort to undermine the Second Amendment was because so many liberals made it clear that was their intention. While the NRA may have mischaracterized Manchin-Toomey, there was little doubt most liberal Democrats considered even an assault weapons ban as just the start of their efforts to make it harder to legally own weapons in this country.

One may consider this belief to be mistaken, but what has happened in the last 24 hours is that liberals have decided this issue is no longer one on which reasonable people can disagree. Today, Ms. Giffords published an op-ed in the New York Times in which she framed those who would not support gun legislation as not caring about keeping children safe. One of the Newtown victim family members went on MSNBC and said senators who didn’t vote as she liked didn’t care about those who died in the massacre. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts Scarborough and Brzezinski, who have used their popular show to campaign non-stop for gun legislation, similarly sought to stigmatize opponents and, as usual, offered no rationale offered for the failure of the bill other than the lack of character by the 46 Senators who opposed it.

There are two points that must be emphasized here.

One is that the language used by these people as well as the president who lashed out at his antagonists as liars and cowards wasn’t merely frustration; it was an effort to demonize opponents. Doing this pretty much puts an end to an effort to conduct dialogue on these issues or to convince people. Confident that they represent the majority, they are now solely intent on branding anyone who opposed these bills as not just wrong, but bad people.

Second is that by employing shooting victims in this manner, the president is actually minimizing their impact on the discussion. So long as the Newtown families or others associated with other such crimes remain above the fray, their status is akin to that of national heroes. But by injecting themselves into what is becoming a nasty partisan argument they have become just another set of talking heads. As Kevin Williamson said of Giffords on National Review’s website today, “being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions.”

That may sound insensitive, but it points out that while she and the Newtown relatives are entitled to a respectful hearing, their story does not give them the right to expect that everyone in the country must agree with their pronouncements on political issues. That is especially true since the great failure of the administration over these past few months was its inability to draw any specific link between any of the measures they proposed and the Newtown tragedy.

The 46 members of the Senate who opposed Manchin-Toomey will not, as Giffords wants, be put into Coventry and shunned by their constituents. Nor, as Scarborough suggested, will they all be defeated when they run for re-election. But the one thing we do know is that this sort of rhetoric has made it even less likely that the country can hold a civil debate on guns. For all of its mistakes, that is one unsettling development that can’t be blamed on the NRA.

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The Mentally Ill Don’t Have Motives

Last week local papers in New York City were captivated by yet another senseless killing. A 46-year old Indian immigrant, Sunando Sen, was pushed onto the subway tracks as a train was pulling into the station by a woman standing nearby. He was killed by the collision and initially, the woman, with whom he had not visibly communicated in any way, fled the scene. The city was left asking what many communities affected by senseless violence ask: Why?

Interviews with police after the perpetrator’s capture indicated that she harbored hatred toward Muslims and Indians since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Immediately the fingers of blame settled on Pamela Geller, the creator and funder of controversial subway ads about Muslims earlier this year. Her detractors called them incendiary and warned of potential violence; this incident was the moment they were waiting for–a chance to say “I told you so.” And they did.

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Last week local papers in New York City were captivated by yet another senseless killing. A 46-year old Indian immigrant, Sunando Sen, was pushed onto the subway tracks as a train was pulling into the station by a woman standing nearby. He was killed by the collision and initially, the woman, with whom he had not visibly communicated in any way, fled the scene. The city was left asking what many communities affected by senseless violence ask: Why?

Interviews with police after the perpetrator’s capture indicated that she harbored hatred toward Muslims and Indians since the attacks on September 11, 2001. Immediately the fingers of blame settled on Pamela Geller, the creator and funder of controversial subway ads about Muslims earlier this year. Her detractors called them incendiary and warned of potential violence; this incident was the moment they were waiting for–a chance to say “I told you so.” And they did.

While hatred of any large group after the destructive actions of few is irrational, the perpetrator’s hatred of Indians and Hindus is especially illogical–members of neither group were involved in the attacks. The Indian people have been recent victims of terror themselves and have assisted the U.S. government in the war on terror, especially after the attacks in Mumbai. The perpetrator’s motive in this instance show just how random and irrational the attack was.

Before pushing Mr. Sen to his death, the perpetrator had been seen nearby on the platform muttering to herself. This is characteristic of many recent such incidents. Instead of shock and surprise, many of the people familiar with the suspects in Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech and the Gabby Giffords shooting (to name a few) described ticking time bombs. They discuss how “creepy” they found these murderers beforehand, with some going to great lengths to avoid and report the suspects. (Two female Virginia Tech students reported the shooter’s behavior to the university the year before the shootings, and one of his professors removed him from her class in order to provide private tutoring away from other students.) What all of these murderers seemed to have in common beforehand were signs, and even diagnoses, of severe mental illness.

In a landmark decision in 1975 the Supreme Court ruled against involuntary hospitalization of the mentally ill, stating, “A finding of ‘mental illness’ alone cannot justify a State’s locking a person up against his will and keeping him indefinitely in simple custodial confinement… In short, a state cannot constitutionally confine without more a nondangerous individual who is capable of surviving safely in freedom by himself or with the help of willing and responsible family members or friends.” After the latest subway shoving incident, the New York Post published a story about the estimated 11,000 homeless “psychotics” currently on the streets, more than 3,000 of whom may have violent tendencies. 

In one Manhattan neighborhood a homeless man spends the majority of his time standing in the subway entrance walkways of a few stations, with his fingers in his ears, talking to voices only he can hear. In the winter months when temperatures dip below freezing, he is still there, wearing a ratty t-shirt, jeans and sneakers. The only time I’ve seen him wearing a winter coat was in the middle of the summer last year. I have placed multiple calls to 9-1-1 to report his presence and lack of appropriate winter attire, yet he remains in the subway entrances day after day. While he doesn’t appear to be a threat to anyone but himself, his lack of weather-appropriate attire indicates an inability to care for himself adequately. To the untrained eye, it appears this gentleman is suffering from schizophrenia and is in no way living in “freedom,” but rather is a prisoner of his own mind and the voices that bombard it daily. The New York Post explained steps that could be taken within New York State to offer treatment to its mentally ill homeless population:

Jaffe [D.J. Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Organization] said steps must be taken to strengthen Kendra’s Law — a loophole-ridden 1999 measure intended to allow courts to forcibly treat the dangerously unhinged.

“We want mandatory evaluations of all mentally ill who are being released from jails, prisons or involuntary hospitalizations,” he said.

Even Andrew Goldstein, the schizophrenic man who shoved Kendra Webdale to her death in front of a train in 1999, is calling for tougher laws — to keep nuts like himself off the street.

“There should be stricter regulations,” he told The Post in his first-ever jailhouse interview.

If we want to put an end to these senseless tragedies, it’s time for the media to stop breathlessly analyzing the “motives” of the insane while splashing their names and faces across the front pages (I have purposefully not used the names of any of the murderers here). This latest subway pusher didn’t kill Mr. Sen because he was Hindu; Gabby Giffords’s shooter wasn’t reacting to a slight from the congresswoman; and the Aurora movie theater killer wasn’t motivated by violence in the “Batman” series. Those suffering from mental illness are not able to form appropriate responses to real or imagined situations. As a society, it’s time to start asking ourselves what we are doing to prevent tragedies like this in the future, and any solution has to include a more comprehensive and coherent treatment plan for our mentally ill.

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DNC Chair Calls for Civility … While Blaming Tea Party for Giffords Shooting

The anniversary of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has thankfully produced little of the partisan name-calling that the event initially provoked among Democrats. But you knew we could count on Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to provide a counterpoint to the general note of civility that has prevailed in the commemorations. In a speech in New Hampshire yesterday, the DNC leader blamed the Tea Party movement for the level of anger in public discourse and had the gall to implicitly link it to the Giffords shooting:

“We need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago, where my very good friend, Gabby Giffords — who is doing really well, by the way — [was shot].” … I’ll tell you. I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it takes a very precipitous turn towards edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.”

Many liberals initially tried to blame the Tea Party or Sarah Palin or anybody else they could think of on the right for the shooting. But once it was established that the perpetrator was an apolitical lunatic, they quickly dropped that ploy though few, if any, apologized. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to dredge this nastiness up a year later and to do it while calling for more civility in politics.

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The anniversary of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has thankfully produced little of the partisan name-calling that the event initially provoked among Democrats. But you knew we could count on Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to provide a counterpoint to the general note of civility that has prevailed in the commemorations. In a speech in New Hampshire yesterday, the DNC leader blamed the Tea Party movement for the level of anger in public discourse and had the gall to implicitly link it to the Giffords shooting:

“We need to make sure that we tone things down, particularly in light of the Tucson tragedy from a year ago, where my very good friend, Gabby Giffords — who is doing really well, by the way — [was shot].” … I’ll tell you. I hesitate to place blame, but I have noticed it takes a very precipitous turn towards edginess and lack of civility with the growth of the Tea Party movement.”

Many liberals initially tried to blame the Tea Party or Sarah Palin or anybody else they could think of on the right for the shooting. But once it was established that the perpetrator was an apolitical lunatic, they quickly dropped that ploy though few, if any, apologized. It takes a special kind of chutzpah to dredge this nastiness up a year later and to do it while calling for more civility in politics.

Wasserman Schultz claims the Tea Party coarsened American politics and its adherents don’t merely disagree with liberals but treat them as “the enemy” and calls them “liars.” No doubt some Tea Partiers have used some rough language about their opponents, but given her own long record of attempting to demonize Republicans, does anyone really think the DNC chair is in any position to call them out for it? While one expects a party hack in her position to be a font of hyper-partisan verbal warfare, for her to carry out such attacks while posing as an advocate for good manners is comically outrageous. Her career is a standing rebuke to the notion that bad behavior in politics is strictly a conservative phenomenon.

That she would do it in the months after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a leftist protest phenomenon that has injected–with the help of its liberal Democratic allies and cheerleaders such as President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi–a heightened spirit of class warfare into the public square, merely adds to the hypocrisy. In 2010, the Democrats tried and failed to portray the Tea Party, a genuine grass roots movement of taxpayers, as an assault on democracy. There’s little doubt they will try again in 2012.

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Morning Commentary

What’s driving the disturbing trend of self-immolation in Arab countries? The Jerusalem Post editorial board writes that it’s a combination of pent-up frustration, a desire to encourage others through dramatic self-sacrifice, and the rise of new media: “Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.”

Who said there wouldn’t be any benefit from Obama’s schmoozing with Hu Jintao last night? During the state dinner, Obama announced that China had made an exciting concession to the U.S.: “The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President [Hu], today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news — under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pro-Palestinian group that was barred from running anti-Israel advertisements on Seattle buses. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the transit agency to run the controversial ads: “’In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions,’ Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement about the suit on Wednesday.”

After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the next big military debate may be over whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers. Proponents of the policy change say that the current rules don’t give women the same advancement opportunities as men, while critics argue that women lack the physical and physiological qualities necessary for combat: “The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Kingsley [Browne said]. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating.”

Less than two weeks after suffering a bullet through the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is almost ready to get transferred to a rehab facility, says her doctor. The tenuous date for her departure from the hospital is Friday, depending on how her condition progresses. So far, Giffords’s recovery sounds miraculous — her husband says she’s begun reading get-well-soon letters sent to her by elementary-school students.

What’s driving the disturbing trend of self-immolation in Arab countries? The Jerusalem Post editorial board writes that it’s a combination of pent-up frustration, a desire to encourage others through dramatic self-sacrifice, and the rise of new media: “Perhaps the recent flurry of self-immolation is an extreme aspect of this trend toward individualism. The personal stories of despair that led up to these acts of self-sacrifice are inevitably brought to the forefront. And the very nature of protest through self-immolation emphasizes the importance of exceptional individual acts and their capacity to generate widespread empathy via self-identification.”

Who said there wouldn’t be any benefit from Obama’s schmoozing with Hu Jintao last night? During the state dinner, Obama announced that China had made an exciting concession to the U.S.: “The Chinese and American people work together and create new opportunities together every single day. Mr. President [Hu], today we’ve shown that our governments can work together as well, for our mutual benefit. And that includes this bit of news — under a new agreement, our National Zoo will continue to dazzle children and visitors with the beloved giant pandas.”

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a pro-Palestinian group that was barred from running anti-Israel advertisements on Seattle buses. The lawsuit is aimed at forcing the transit agency to run the controversial ads: “’In a free and democratic society, we cannot allow the government to suppress lawful speech, even speech that may stir emotions,’ Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, said in a statement about the suit on Wednesday.”

After the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the next big military debate may be over whether women should be allowed to serve as combat soldiers. Proponents of the policy change say that the current rules don’t give women the same advancement opportunities as men, while critics argue that women lack the physical and physiological qualities necessary for combat: “The number one thing that soldiers, men going into battle, especially ones going into battle for the first time, are afraid of is that they are going to be cowards,” Kingsley [Browne said]. “That kind of fear, fear of cowardice, is highly motivating.”

Less than two weeks after suffering a bullet through the head, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is almost ready to get transferred to a rehab facility, says her doctor. The tenuous date for her departure from the hospital is Friday, depending on how her condition progresses. So far, Giffords’s recovery sounds miraculous — her husband says she’s begun reading get-well-soon letters sent to her by elementary-school students.

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Group that Recruits Pro-Palestinian ‘Martyrs’ Gets Okay from Bard

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

Compiling a list of the most egregious uses of the shootings in Arizona this month to stifle legitimate debate would be a herculean task. But surely among the worst is a statement issued by Bard College president Leon Botstein, who invoked the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in an attempt to shut up those who are asking questions about his institution’s decision to give the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) the status of an authorized student club with full access to campus facilities.

ISM is, of course, more than just another left-wing group that agitates against Israel. It is an avowedly anti-Zionist organization that has as its mission the task of sending activists into the Arab-Israeli conflict as non-combatant auxiliaries for Palestinian terror groups and their political fronts. The ISM gained fame a few years ago as the group that sent Rachel Corrie, an American college student from Washington State, into Gaza to act as a human shield for the Hamas terrorist organization. Corrie became an anti-Zionist martyr when an Israeli bulldozer that was demolishing a home that housed a Hamas arms-smuggling tunnel crushed her while she was defending it with her body.

Bard, a liberal arts school in New York’s Hudson Valley, is well known for its summer music festival, but it has now also apparently earned the distinction of being the only American college campus with an active ISM chapter. Given the extremism of this organization and its penchant for placing its volunteers in harm’s way, there are, understandably, some who question the decision to treat it as the moral equivalent of a chess club. A good argument can be made that it is not the college’s job to decide which political groups students can or cannot join. But it is slightly disingenuous to claim, as Botstein does, that the issue here is whether students should be allow to debate or express their opinions about the Middle East. Bard students certainly have the right to denounce the existence of a Jewish state, oppose its right to self-defense, and defend those who advocate and carry out terrorism in order to further that cause. But it is not unreasonable to assert that groups that exist in order to literally facilitate such actions might be considered as falling outside the bounds of even the most freewheeling campus debates.

Botstein urges critics of the ISM to keep the Arizona shooting in mind and thus lower their voices. But rather than acting as if the group’s critics are conducting some kind of a witch hunt, he would do better to worry about the consequences of allowing a group that is prepared to sacrifice the lives of students to further the cause of anti-Zionism. And instead of worrying that Bard’s Israel-haters will get their feelings hurt by those who question the propriety of their presence on campus, he might also spare a thought for the question of whether facilitating ISM’s rabid bias against Israel and its supporters might be creating a hostile environment for Jewish students there, as turned out to be the case when anti-Israel activism ran amok at the University of California’s Irvine campus a few years ago.

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Was It Time or Bias that Caused the Media to Slant the Story?

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes. Read More

Since Daniel Okrent left the post, the men who have served as the public editor of the New York Times haven’t caused much trouble for the journalists they are supposed to be monitoring. That has certainly been true of Arthur Brisbane, the latest to sit in that seat. However, when confronted with a colossal case of journalistic malpractice, even a Brisbane can’t ignore it. Thus, Brisbane was forced to address the fact that, like much of the mainstream media, the Times‘s coverage of the Arizona tragedy led with and assumed that the shooting was the result of conservative incitement, which would lead to serious political repercussions.

Unfortunately, Brisbane’s analysis of the Times coverage ignores the real problems while focusing on the one element that journalists have always had to deal with: time. Brisbane seems to think that the Times’s initial report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was dead was terrible. It was an error but one that was an understandable result of a chaotic situation. Brisbane is more forgiving of the bigger mistake: “The Times’s day-one coverage in some of its Sunday print editions included a strong focus on the political climate in Arizona and the nation. For some readers — and I share this view to an extent — placing the violence in the broader political context was problematic.”

While he rightly deplores the instinctive decision of both reporters and editors to “frame” the Arizona shooting as an event that was a direct result of conservative dissent against the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress, Brisbane still thinks there “were some good reasons to steer the coverage in this direction.” But the only “good reason” he cites is the assumption that any violence directed at a politician must be the result of the fact that a lot of people disagree with her policies.

Brisbane acknowledges that a better focus of the Times coverage would have been one that highlighted the fact that the shooter was mentally ill. Yet he blames the false assumptions that caused the newspaper to “frame” all its coverage around a false belief that this was a political event for which conservatives must pay on the lack of time. But that is no excuse. Journalists never have enough time. But that’s no reason to take an event and shoehorn it into a fabricated story line that is based on the delegitimization of those who espouse political views that the Times opposes.

It wasn’t time that caused the editors at the Times and other broadcast media to falsely accuse conservatives of inciting the shooter; it was their own very obvious political bias. Like the pundits who write on the paper’s op-ed page who have continued to link the crime to politics, even after President Obama urged his followers to stop doing so, the paper’s news editors live in a world where conservative opinions simply aren’t legitimate. Indeed, on the same page where Brisbane’s apologia for the paper appears was a column by Frank Rich that again sought to falsely link Palin to the shooting. Rich spoke of the widespread public anger against the Obama administration’s policies as a violent “insurrection” that threatens the rule of law rather than a grassroots movement that led to an overwhelming Republican victory at the polls last November. Like so many other liberals, Rich thinks it doesn’t matter than Jared Loughner was insane. As far as he is concerned, those who oppose the Democrats are still responsible, even though Rich has produced as much “hate” of President Bush and the Republicans as even the most rabid conservative talk-radio hosts have of Obama.

It is noteworthy that Brisbane even bothered to notice how badly his newspaper got the story wrong. But until he addresses the political bias that was the primary cause of that error, accountability at the Times is still not in the cards.

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The Civility Non Sequitur

A week’s worth of talk about civility is very nice. We should be more civil toward each other. There’s little more depressing in life than the incivility of much public discourse. But if you take five seconds to think about it, what happened in Tucson had nothing whatever to do with unmannerly misbehavior. Quite the opposite: the morning’s events gave ample evidence of humankind’s ability to hear the immediate call to greatness, as in Daniel Hernandez’s heroic salvation of Gabrielle Giffords’s life and how Dorwan Stoddard gave his life to shield his wife, Mavanelle, from Jared Loughner’s spray of bullet fire.

Thus, as we continue to gather more evidence of Loughner’s schizophrenia, the continuing rhetorical calls for the need for “civility” are now turning into nothing less than cover. They’re a dodge, a means by which those responsible for the slanderous accusation that somehow the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the right were responsible for the massacre have been excused for hurling their grievously unjust charge. For, you see, they were only calling for a “new tone,” for “civility,” and who could be against those?

A week’s worth of talk about civility is very nice. We should be more civil toward each other. There’s little more depressing in life than the incivility of much public discourse. But if you take five seconds to think about it, what happened in Tucson had nothing whatever to do with unmannerly misbehavior. Quite the opposite: the morning’s events gave ample evidence of humankind’s ability to hear the immediate call to greatness, as in Daniel Hernandez’s heroic salvation of Gabrielle Giffords’s life and how Dorwan Stoddard gave his life to shield his wife, Mavanelle, from Jared Loughner’s spray of bullet fire.

Thus, as we continue to gather more evidence of Loughner’s schizophrenia, the continuing rhetorical calls for the need for “civility” are now turning into nothing less than cover. They’re a dodge, a means by which those responsible for the slanderous accusation that somehow the Tea Party and Sarah Palin and the right were responsible for the massacre have been excused for hurling their grievously unjust charge. For, you see, they were only calling for a “new tone,” for “civility,” and who could be against those?

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Small Miracles in Tucson, Arizona

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning has an incredibly poignant anecdote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about their visit with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the hospital yesterday.

While the two lawmakers sat at Giffords’s bedside, they joked about what the three of them would do once she recovered, and Giffords actually began to move in response.

“And the more we joked about what we were going to do, she started to open her eyes literally. And then you have to recognize, her eyes hadn’t opened — we didn’t know that — and so she started to struggle,” said Gillibrand.

Seeing this, Giffords’s husband, Mark, immediately jumped to her side and started urging her to keep her eyes open:

“And one of her eyes is covered with a bandage because it was damaged in the gunfire. So her eye is flickering. And Mark sees this and gets extremely excited. … And so he said, Gabby, open your eyes, open your eyes. And he’s really urging her forward. And the doctor is like perking up and everyone is coming around the bed. And she’s struggling. … And then she finally opens her eyes and you could she was like desperately trying to focus and it took enormous strength from her. And Mark could just — can’t believe it. I mean, he’s so happy. And we’re crying because we’re witnessing something that we never imagined would happen in front of us. And so Mark says, he says — he said, Gabby, if you can see me, give us the thumbs up, give us the thumbs up.”

But instead of giving a thumbs-up sign, Giffords reached out to try to embrace her husband:

“And then she reaches out and starts grabbing Mark and is touching him and starts to nearly choke him — she was clearly trying to hug him. … And we were just in tears of joy watching this and beyond ourselves, honestly. And then Mark said, you know, touch my ring, touch my ring. And she touches his ring and then she grabs his whole watch and wrist. And then the doctor was just so excited. He said, you don’t understand, this is amazing, what’s she’s doing right now, and beyond our greatest hopes.”

Imagine what a tremendous physical exertion it must have been for Giffords to simply raise an arm to touch her husband. She could have remained still, kept her eyes shut, saved the effort. But even this basic act of connecting was worth the struggle.

There has been a lot of talk in recent days about the mindset of the man who put a bullet through Giffords’s head. His friends called him a nihilist who would often ramble about the pointlessness of the world. It’s stories like this one that remind us how false that philosophy is, how even the smallest acts can be full of meaning.

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In Praise of Jonathan Chait

I’ve gone a few rounds with Jonathan Chait in the past (he affectionately refers to me as the Bush administration’s Minister of Propaganda). I’m therefore delighted to draw attention to a piece he wrote — not to rebut it but to praise it.

According to Chait, “Conservatives are furious that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being pinned on them. Their indignation is justified. The mania of Giffords’ would-be assassin may be slightly more right-wing than left-wing, but on the whole it is largely disconnected from even loosely organized extreme right-wing politics.”

Chait goes on to say this:

I can see why those concerned about the rise of right-wing hysteria would want to use Loughner as a cautionary tale — even if he wasn’t a product of right-wing rage, they may be thinking, he is an example of what right-wing rage could lead to. Yet they fail to understand that this will appear to conservatives as an attempt to use the emotion of the moment to stigmatize them. The mania of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party must be dealt with on their own terms.

A few weeks ago, Chait had nice things to say about something I wrote; today I have something nice to say about what he wrote.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

I’ve gone a few rounds with Jonathan Chait in the past (he affectionately refers to me as the Bush administration’s Minister of Propaganda). I’m therefore delighted to draw attention to a piece he wrote — not to rebut it but to praise it.

According to Chait, “Conservatives are furious that the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords is being pinned on them. Their indignation is justified. The mania of Giffords’ would-be assassin may be slightly more right-wing than left-wing, but on the whole it is largely disconnected from even loosely organized extreme right-wing politics.”

Chait goes on to say this:

I can see why those concerned about the rise of right-wing hysteria would want to use Loughner as a cautionary tale — even if he wasn’t a product of right-wing rage, they may be thinking, he is an example of what right-wing rage could lead to. Yet they fail to understand that this will appear to conservatives as an attempt to use the emotion of the moment to stigmatize them. The mania of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party must be dealt with on their own terms.

A few weeks ago, Chait had nice things to say about something I wrote; today I have something nice to say about what he wrote.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.

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Silence Is Preferable to Speculation as to Loughner’s Motives

Megyn Kelly of Fox News skillfully interviews Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik about the motivation of the suspect, Jared Loughner, in the assassination attempt of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six others.

Mr. Dupnik, a Democrat, puts the massacre in the context of “vitriol” in public discourse. He takes barely concealed shots at conservatives and the GOP. Yet when asked if there’s any evidence that Loughner was influenced or inspired by such “vitriol” coming from television or talk radio, Dupnik is forced to concede he has none. It turns out it’s simply idle speculation on his part. And, I would add, it is wholly inappropriate speculation. A sheriff involved in an investigation should not act as if he’s trying out for a job as a host on MSNBC.

All in all it’s a rather troubling, and slightly buffoonish, performance by the Pima County Sheriff.

Megyn Kelly of Fox News skillfully interviews Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik about the motivation of the suspect, Jared Loughner, in the assassination attempt of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of six others.

Mr. Dupnik, a Democrat, puts the massacre in the context of “vitriol” in public discourse. He takes barely concealed shots at conservatives and the GOP. Yet when asked if there’s any evidence that Loughner was influenced or inspired by such “vitriol” coming from television or talk radio, Dupnik is forced to concede he has none. It turns out it’s simply idle speculation on his part. And, I would add, it is wholly inappropriate speculation. A sheriff involved in an investigation should not act as if he’s trying out for a job as a host on MSNBC.

All in all it’s a rather troubling, and slightly buffoonish, performance by the Pima County Sheriff.

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The Cynicism and Intellectual Corruption of the Left

You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, of attempting the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

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.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.” Read More

You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, of attempting the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

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.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal—he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.”

Think about the formulation for a moment: “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point.” The important point isn’t the dead or the wounded; it’s Fox News, Sarah Palin, and conservative talk radio. Blaming conservatives, you see, is the storyline Packer, the New York Times, and scores of other liberal commentators have settled on. They have decided on their narrative; inconvenient facts — also known as reality — cannot get in the way of their crusade.

This is all very postmodern, a simplistic version of deconstructionism. What is on display is a cast of mind in which facts and reality are secondary to storylines and narratives. The aim is not truth; it is to advance The Cause. It is also about cynical exploitation. As one veteran Democratic operative told Politico, the Obama White House needs to “deftly pin this on the tea partiers” just as “the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people” in 1995.

It is all quite sick, really. Not a few liberals are attempting to use a human tragedy to advance an ideological agenda. They are using dead and broken bodies as political pawns. The blood was still flowing from the gunshot wounds of slain and wounded people in Tucson as liberals began an extraordinary and instantaneous smear campaign. It will end up making our political discourse even more angry and toxic.

I was naïve enough to be surprised at what has unfolded in the last 48 hours. The cynicism and intellectual corruption on the left is deeper than I imagined.

Lesson learned.

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RE: Hillary Clinton and the Art of Getting It Exactly Wrong

The Muslim world may have rampant beheadings, daily assassinations, and violent mobs every time an offensive political cartoon is printed in a Nordic newspaper. But, according to Hilary Clinton, the recent shooting in Arizona proves that the United States has just as much of a problem with radical extremism as Islamic countries:

During her Gulf tour, Clinton paused to reflect on Saturday’s tragedy, which took the lives of six people and injured another 14, including US Republican Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head at point-blank range.

“Look, we have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman congress member, Congresswoman Giffords, was just shot in our country,” she said in comments obtained by Fox News Channel.

“We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

Sure, we help them solve their epidemic of Islamic radicalism, and they help us solve our problem with a single 22-year-old mentally ill lone gunman. Sounds like a fair trade.

Clinton’s comparison is obviously absurd, as Abe pointed out. For one, Muslim extremists are motivated by a distorted form of political Islam. At the moment, there is little evidence that Jared Loughner was motivated by anything other than his own extreme mental illness. In fact, most of the information released so far has painted a portrait of a deeply disturbed, unbalanced young man who could potentially have been a risk to anyone. Former classmates and professors told reporters that they feared Loughner would one day come to school with a gun.

And while the U.S. has obviously had problems with non-Islamic terrorism in the past, it seems way too soon to begin comparing Loughner to a Timothy McVeigh or a Ted Kaczynski. The terms “extremist” and “terrorist” have very specific meanings and should be used carefully. Unless authorities discover a political motive for the Arizona shooting — something more than a couple of nonsensical and deranged scribblings about the gold standard or conscious dreams — any comparisons between Loughner and terrorism should be avoided.

The Muslim world may have rampant beheadings, daily assassinations, and violent mobs every time an offensive political cartoon is printed in a Nordic newspaper. But, according to Hilary Clinton, the recent shooting in Arizona proves that the United States has just as much of a problem with radical extremism as Islamic countries:

During her Gulf tour, Clinton paused to reflect on Saturday’s tragedy, which took the lives of six people and injured another 14, including US Republican Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head at point-blank range.

“Look, we have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman congress member, Congresswoman Giffords, was just shot in our country,” she said in comments obtained by Fox News Channel.

“We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

Sure, we help them solve their epidemic of Islamic radicalism, and they help us solve our problem with a single 22-year-old mentally ill lone gunman. Sounds like a fair trade.

Clinton’s comparison is obviously absurd, as Abe pointed out. For one, Muslim extremists are motivated by a distorted form of political Islam. At the moment, there is little evidence that Jared Loughner was motivated by anything other than his own extreme mental illness. In fact, most of the information released so far has painted a portrait of a deeply disturbed, unbalanced young man who could potentially have been a risk to anyone. Former classmates and professors told reporters that they feared Loughner would one day come to school with a gun.

And while the U.S. has obviously had problems with non-Islamic terrorism in the past, it seems way too soon to begin comparing Loughner to a Timothy McVeigh or a Ted Kaczynski. The terms “extremist” and “terrorist” have very specific meanings and should be used carefully. Unless authorities discover a political motive for the Arizona shooting — something more than a couple of nonsensical and deranged scribblings about the gold standard or conscious dreams — any comparisons between Loughner and terrorism should be avoided.

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Hillary Clinton and the Art of Getting It Exactly Wrong

From CBS News:

In a town hall meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the man who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as an “extremist” – and urged the audience not to judge his actions as representative of American ideologies.

When asked by a student why many in the United States target the entire Arab world in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton condemned “extremists and their voices,” and said both countries had to work to overcome the strong influence of those voices, according to the Associated Press.

“We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Gifford[s], was just shot by an extremist in our country,” Clinton said. … “We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

First, it’s a bit of an outrage to use Saturday’s massacre as a prop in finding diplomatic common ground. Second, Clinton has obliterated the shred of coherence that clung to the term extremist up until now. Extremism is now, presumably, a medical condition. Last, she equates the organized global phenomenon of Islamist terrorism with the violent tipping point of a lone psychotic American. Terrorism redefined as apolitical statistical noise and the U.S. recast as just another country with violent extremists.

From CBS News:

In a town hall meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the man who shot Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as an “extremist” – and urged the audience not to judge his actions as representative of American ideologies.

When asked by a student why many in the United States target the entire Arab world in reference to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Clinton condemned “extremists and their voices,” and said both countries had to work to overcome the strong influence of those voices, according to the Associated Press.

“We have extremists in my country. A wonderful, incredibly brave young woman Congress member, Congresswoman Gifford[s], was just shot by an extremist in our country,” Clinton said. … “We have the same kinds of problems. So rather than standing off from each other, we should work to try to prevent the extremists anywhere from being able to commit violence.”

First, it’s a bit of an outrage to use Saturday’s massacre as a prop in finding diplomatic common ground. Second, Clinton has obliterated the shred of coherence that clung to the term extremist up until now. Extremism is now, presumably, a medical condition. Last, she equates the organized global phenomenon of Islamist terrorism with the violent tipping point of a lone psychotic American. Terrorism redefined as apolitical statistical noise and the U.S. recast as just another country with violent extremists.

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Left Shamelessly Seeks to Exploit Arizona Tragedy

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

The shooting in Arizona is the sort of thing that obligates all sides in political debates to call a timeout. Right now our collective prayers are with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her family as she struggles for life, as well as with the families of those who were murdered in this senseless evil attack. But acting in the spirit of Rahm Emanuel’s belief that a crisis shouldn’t go to waste, some on the left are determined to exploit this tragedy to advance their own partisan interests.

One example is a post by the New Yorker’s George Packer, who writes today that “It doesn’t matter why he did it.” The “he” is the alleged Arizona murderer Jared Loughner, a mentally unstable creature who thinks that the government is imposing “mind control” on the public via “grammar.”

Packer concedes that Loughner is not an advocate of any coherent ideology or movement that has any real link to anything that is part of contemporary political debates, including the Tea Party activists. But to him that is irrelevant, because conservative activists and pundits have spent the last two years criticizing President Obama and his policies, making violence inevitable.

It is true that a few people on the margins have indulged in rhetoric that can be termed attempts at the “delegitimization” of Obama, including those who have irrationally focused on myths about the president’s birthplace and religion. But on the left it has become a piece of conventional wisdom that all conservatives are somehow guilty of rhetoric that crosses the bounds of decency. Indeed, so sensitive are Packer and those who think like him that even the public reading of the Constitution this past week by members of Congress (an exercise that included Rep. Giffords, who proudly read the First Amendment) is “an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.”

Speaking in the same spirit, the National Jewish Democratic Council asserted: “It is fair to say — in today’s political climate, and given today’s political rhetoric — that many have contributed to the building levels of vitriol in our political discourse that have surely contributed to the atmosphere in which this event transpired.”

Both Packer’s post and the NJDC statement reflect the liberal talking point of the last two years that has sought to maintain the pretense that the Tea Party and other fervent critics of Obama were nothing more than hate-filled nut cases rather than merely citizens who were asserting their constitutional right of dissent. But as the election in November proved, the Tea Party turned out in many respects to be more representative of mainstream America than the media and other elites who branded them as extremists.

It is true that the political debate in this country over the last two years has been heated, with President Obama and congressional Democrats being subjected to some particularly tough rhetoric. But the level of nastiness directed at Obama was no greater than the vicious attacks that had been leveled at President Bush, who along with Dick Cheney and other administration figures was regularly vilified not only by demonstrators but also by mainstream liberal politicians. Indeed, Packer acts as though left-wing talk-show hosts like Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz, who repeatedly seek to delegitimize Republicans and conservatives, didn’t exist. And it is not as if Republicans receive no threats; some, like Rep. Eric Cantor, the new House majority leader, have also been subjected to this sort of indecent behavior.

Despite all this, Packer and the NJDC are determined to use the tragedy in Arizona to resurrect this failed effort to besmirch conservatives and other Obama critics as violent haters. There is, after all, a precedent for this sort of thing. In 1995, President Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombing to strike back at his critics, including radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh, even though Limbaugh and others critical of Clinton had nothing to do with the lunatics who perpetrated that crime.

Calls for civil debate are always appropriate, but those who wish to use this terrible crime to attempt to silence their opponents or to stifle legitimate public debate or activism are the ones who are crossing the bounds of decency today.

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Morning Commentary

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

On a trip to China this weekend, Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that the country’s military capabilities are more advanced than previously thought: “China’s investment in new ballistic missiles designed to destroy naval vessels, as well as its pursuit of a stealth fighter, has raised concern in the Pentagon that China’s military is seeking the capability to destroy U.S. warships and aircraft operating off China’s coast.”

Former classmates of Jared Loughner, the alleged shooter of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, paint a picture of a very disturbed individual who was disruptive in class, posted nonsensical and rambling messages online, and was obsessed with trying to manipulate his own dreams: “Loughner’s online accounts contain some political comments but are dominated by bizarre discussions of his desire to establish a new currency and his disdain for what he considered the public’s low literacy rates. He also wrote threatening and despairing messages.”

From what little we know about the alleged shooter, it doesn’t appear that the motive was political, Ben Smith writes: “Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube and MySpace pages don’t offer much evidence that he was drinking from the main streams of American politics. The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.”

And if left-wingers want to blame Sarah Palin’s supposed “heated rhetoric” for the Arizona shooting, then they should blame journalists as well, writes Howard Kurtz: “Let’s be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition. So we shouldn’t act shocked when politicians do the same thing. Obviously, Palin should have used dots or asterisks on her map. But does anyone seriously believe she was trying to incite violence?”

Fanatics may have silenced Salmaan Taseer, but his assassination was not the death knell for Pakistani liberalism, writes his son Shehrbano Taseer in the New York Times: “It may sound odd, but I can’t imagine my father dying in any other way. Everything he had, he invested in Pakistan, giving livelihoods to tens of thousands, improving the economy. My father believed in our country’s potential. He lived and died for Pakistan. To honor his memory, those who share that belief in Pakistan’s future must not stay silent about injustice. We must never be afraid of our enemies. We must never let them win.”

Who are the real hijackers of Islam — the radicals or the moderates? Jonah Goldberg writes that Taseer’s assassination makes it abundantly clear that extremists, not peaceful Muslims, make up the majority of the Islamic world: “For years we’ve been hearing about how the peaceful religion of Islam has been hijacked by extremists. What if it’s the other way around? Worse, what if the peaceful hijackers are losing their bid to take over the religion? That certainly seems to be the case in Pakistan.”

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The Tucson Shooting

The unspeakable crime today in Arizona at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s constituent gathering outside a Safeway supermarket — which has taken the life of a nine-year-old girl, and injured others besides the congresswoman herself — was evidently perpetrated by a 22-year-old named Jared Laughner. It’s fair to say that the near-term political future of the United States will now be driven in part by the motivations of this one monster, a single evil soul in a nation of 308 million people.

The unspeakable crime today in Arizona at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s constituent gathering outside a Safeway supermarket — which has taken the life of a nine-year-old girl, and injured others besides the congresswoman herself — was evidently perpetrated by a 22-year-old named Jared Laughner. It’s fair to say that the near-term political future of the United States will now be driven in part by the motivations of this one monster, a single evil soul in a nation of 308 million people.

Read Less




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