When a gunman attempted to murder Rep. Gabriel Giffords in January 2011, the country was shocked by what was widely interpreted as an act that symbolized the incivility that had transformed American politics. That assumption, which was primarily aimed at undermining the Tea Party movement that had swept the midterm elections months before in the 2010 midterms, was soon debunked when we learned the shooter was an apolitical madman. But liberals have never ceased yapping about the implications of their opponents’ alleged meanness. Now it turns out the person who is doing the most to give the lie to this assertion is Ms. Giffords.

Giffords’s plight in the wake of the shooting engendered the support of all Americans as she struggled to recover from catastrophic wounds that forced her to abandon her political career. Like James Brady did a generation before, Giffords’s valiant recovery from a severe head wound made her the object of the nation’s sympathy and warm wishes. That wasn’t diminished by her activism on behalf of controversial gun-control laws. But as Giffords has begun to realize that empathy for her situation doesn’t translate into a willingness by the majority of Americans to embrace her positions on gun control, her intervention in political races is now taking on the aspect of a political attack dog rather than that of a sympathetic victim.

As Politico reports today in a story that runs under the headline “Gabby Giffords gets mean,” the former congresswoman has taken off the gloves in a series of political ads aimed at taking out Republicans she doesn’t like. In them, her super PAC seeks to exploit the suffering of other shooting victims but twists the narrative to make it appear that people like Martha McSally, the Republican woman running for Giffords’s old seat, were somehow involved or even complicit in violent shooting of a woman named Vicki by a stalker.

As Politico notes:

Some longtime supporters are starting to cry foul. On Friday, the Arizona Republic’s editorial page, which is typically liberal leaning, called the “Vicki” ad “base and vile.” The commercial, the newspaper said, put the murder “at McSally’s feet, as if she were responsible. A murder indictment implied. But, of course, McSally had nothing to do with” the death.

This is rough stuff by any standard but for it to be the work of a woman whose shooting elevated her to the status of secular saint is particularly shocking. Other ads that her group has produced pursue the same specious line.

All may be fair in love, war, and politics but there’s a lesson to be learned here and it’s not just that sympathetic victims can turn nasty if they don’t get their way on policy questions.

The liberal conceit that conservatives have fouled the political waters with their strident advocacy for accountability in terms of taxes and spending was always something of a stretch. While the Tea Party, like every other American political faction, has its share of rude loudmouths, despite the libels aimed at it from the liberal mainstream media it is no more a threat to democracy than its counterparts on the left. But modern liberalism has its core a deep-seated intolerance of opposition. It was never enough for them to criticize the positions of conservatives or Tea Partiers; they had to skewer them as anti-democratic or supportive of political violence, despite the lack of evidence to support such wild allegations.

Nor are liberals deterred by the irony of their efforts to defame conservatives. As I wrote back in January 2012, even as she issued a call for political civility, Democratic National Committee chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz falsely linked the Tea Party to the Giffords shooting. So why should we be surprised that Giffords would play the same card as she seeks to demonize and defame those who would frustrate her pro-gun control efforts?

Part of the disconnect here is due to a misunderstanding about Giffords’s personality. Though she is rightly praised for her hard work in recovering from her wounds, prior to the shooting Giffords was never shy about using the most incendiary rhetoric aimed at demonizing her political foes.

The point here is not so much to debunk the stained-glass image of the plucky Giffords in the aftermath of her ordeal. Rather, it is to understand that those who seek to characterize political differences, even over issues as divisive as guns, as those between the advocates of good and those of evil are always doing a disservice to the country. Liberals and many of their cheerleaders in the media take it as a given that conservatives are mean-spirited ghouls who don’t care about the poor or are in the pay of malevolent forces. They then take great offense when some on the right pay them back in kind with similarly over-the-top allegations.

The kind of gutter politics practiced by Giffords’s advocacy group does nothing to further a productive debate about guns or any other issue. But it does bring to light the hypocrisy of liberals who believe their good intentions or inherent virtue should allow them to defame opponents in a manner they would decry as incitement to violence if it were directed at them.

The good news, however, is that voters aren’t stupid. As much as they may sympathize with Giffords, they understand that the good will she earned can be easily dissipated if it is to be put in service to sliming those who disagree with her. Just as trotting out Giffords or the families of the Newtown massacre victims won’t convince Americans to trash their Second Amendment rights, neither will the former politician’s ads enable her to get away with sliming another woman with a mind of her own. Sadly, Giffords’s hold on America’s heartstrings may be over.

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