Jonah Goldberg

If the alleged shooter had been inspired by a movie or TV show -- as any number of murderers have been over the years -- would those blaming the tea parties join with social conservatives in blaming Hollywood? Would they celebrate new laws to "shut down" such fare?

Mark David Chapman, who murdered John Lennon, claimed to be in part inspired by "Catcher in the Rye." Should that be banned? Or if not banned, should we "dismiss" from public life anyone who doesn't denounce J.D. Salinger?

When the subject of censorship or the "chilling" of free expression comes up in other contexts, the very idea that books, movies or TV can be blamed for the actions of the criminal or the deranged is met with unbridled scorn. I actually disagree with that. If books can inspire us positively, surely they can inspire us negatively, too. But we understand that we don't blame books for the rare demons who feed on them.

No doubt this will cause eye-rolling among those who simply want to keep the focus on demonizing conservatives and never bother to think ahead about the consequences of their misplaced hysteria. One noble exception is Slate's Jack Shafer, who probably goes farther than I would when he writes, "Any call to cool 'inflammatory' speech is a call to police all speech, and I can't think of anybody in government, politics, business or the press that I would trust with that power."

Meanwhile, many proud liberals, not to mention dedicated journalists, see no problem with fueling a mass panic over our "political discourse." The fact that liberal rhetoric and images are often just as "extreme" is irrelevant. Also irrelevant is any violence that might be linked to such rhetoric. And the fact that the shooting suspect's motivations may lay in a reality of his own design? That's irrelevant too.

These critics' aim is simply to exploit this horror as an opportunity to yell "shut up" at their political opponents.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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