Ken Connor

The tragic shooting in Tuscon, AZ continues to dominate the headlines and occupy the attention of our President and Congress. Fueled by the relentless nature of the 24-hour cable news cycle and the modern impulse to derive a sociological lesson from even the most inexplicable and senseless acts of violence, there is already talk of a need for laws regulating the use of "inflammatory" imagery and rhetoric. And, not surprisingly, it looks likely that the issue of gun control will once more find a place at the forefront of the national public policy debate.

In response to pronouncements from many prominent figures on the Left that the Tea Party and Sarah Palin are responsible for inciting Jared Lee Loughner to commit his murderous act, many commentators – from both the Left and the Right – have felt compelled to respond. The general consensus is that it is neither helpful nor fair to cast about for a larger villain when it is an unavoidable fact of human existence that from time to time demented individuals do terrible things for reasons we'll never understand – or, perhaps, for no reason at all.

In the world of politics, however, who gives a fig about helpful or fair? Never let a good tragedy go to waste, to paraphrase the inimitable Rahm Emmanuel. If there is political hay to be made, best to seize upon a time when emotions are running high and the people are feeling vulnerable. This is when government does its best work, after all! There are new laws to pass, new regulations to draft, new liberties to curtail in the name of safety and security for all! There is, however, something deeper and more insidious at work in the Left's reaction to this shooting than the mere desire to score a few political points: the Left's irresponsible, baseless, and hyperbolic accusations and aspersions of all things conservative, Republican, libertarian, and Tea Party is designed to create a chilling effect on any speech that runs contrary to their world view. George Will addressed the Progressive habit of ideological demonization through sociological explanation in a recent Washington Post column:

"Now we have explainers. They came into vogue with the murder of President Kennedy. They explained why the 'real' culprit was not a self-described Marxist who had moved to Moscow, then returned to support Castro. No, the culprit was a 'climate of hate' in conservative Dallas, the 'paranoid style' of American (conservative) politics or some other national sickness resulting from insufficient liberalism. Last year, New York Times columnist Charles Blow explained that 'the optics must be irritating' to conservatives: Barack Obama is black, Nancy Pelosi is female, Rep. Barney Frank is gay, Rep. Anthony Weiner (an unimportant Democrat, listed to serve Blow's purposes) is Jewish. . . . The Times, which after the Tucson shooting said that 'many on the right' are guilty of 'demonizing' people and of exploiting 'arguments of division,' apparently was comfortable with Blow's insinuation that conservatives are misogynistic, homophobic, racist anti-Semites."

There's more than mere hypocrisy and political opportunism at work here. The Left's method of dealing with ideas they don't like is to distort the ideas and slander those who promote them, with the ultimate goal of rendering the conservative viewpoint so repugnant and morally objectionable that it becomes socially, culturally – and perhaps even legally – taboo. George Will aptly refers to this tactic as"McCarthyism of the left" that "expresses limitless contempt for the American people."

Andrew Klavan of City Journal takes Will's observation a step further, suggesting that the viciousness of the Left's unwarranted accusations are motivated by the unwelcome realization that their ideology is crumbling around them. In a word, they are – bit by bit – losing control of the narrative:

"The narrative is what leftists believe in instead of the truth. If they can blame George W. Bush for the economic crisis, if they can make Sarah Palin out to be an idiot, if they can call the Tea Party racist until you think it must be true, they might yet retain power in spite of the international disgrace of their ideas. And though they still mostly dominate the narrative on the three broadcast networks, most cable stations, most newspapers, and much of Hollywood, nonetheless Fox News, talk radio, the Internet, and the Wall Street Journal have begun to respond in ways they can't ignore.

That's the hateful rhetoric they're talking about: conservatives interrupting the stream of leftist invective in order to dismantle their arguments with the facts. As for leftists' reaction to the Arizona shooting, call it Narrative Hysteria: a frantic attempt to capitalize on calamity by casting their opponents, not merely as racist or sexist or Islamophobic this time, but as somehow responsible for an act of madness and evil. Shame on them."

The freedom to freely voice one's opinion is a cornerstone of American liberty that must not be infringed upon, particularly not by a dishonest faction seeking to hamstring legitimate political dialog for the sake of their own ideological ends. The moment we begin persecuting groups or individuals because of their thoughts, beliefs, or statements is the moment we cease to be a truly free society. Of course, political civility is a good thing and something to be encouraged; but as long as Americans have the right to speak freely, they will be free to say rude, inflammatory, and hyperbolic statements. Nothing draws out this tendency more than the spectacle that is American politics, and no political party or persuasion is innocent on this score.

It would be nice, however, if everyone could recognize that there are certain occasions when politics have no place in the discussion – namely, times of tragedy and loss. It is at times like these that we truly cease to be Republican or Democrat, and should be able to grieve together simply as Americans.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.