Michael Barone

The steam seems to be going out of the move to "deftly pin this" -- the shooting of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others -- "on the tea partiers," as one unidentified senior Democratic operative put it to Politico.

It has become obvious that the murderer was crazy, the follower of no political movement, motivated only by the bizarre ideas ricocheting through his head.

If any blame attaches to others, it is to authorities who had notice of his madness and did not do enough to confine him or prevent him from buying a gun. The Pima County sheriff, who was quick to suggest the attack was among the "consequences" of Republican rhetoric, also reported that the shooter's bizarre behavior was brought to the attention of authorities.

Arizona reportedly gives authorities more leeway than most states to put such individuals under restraint or at least prevent them from buying a gun. Perhaps there is some good reason this was not done -- but at least there are questions that need to be asked.

Some broader perspective may be in order. The last congressman to be attacked by a gunman was California Rep. Leo Ryan, murdered at the Jonestown massacre in Guyana in 1978, 32 years ago.

Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" event was an effort to make herself available to constituents -- a commendable thing, especially since many Democratic congressmen stopped making public appearances after they got negative feedback in summer 2009 town hall meetings.

How many times have member of Congress made announced appearances, without security personnel, over the last 32 years? How many thousands? Tens of thousands?

The answer is that this kind of attack is, thank goodness, exceedingly rare -- though not as rare as all decent people would like. There have been bitter political controversies and enormous amounts of political vitriol from all points in the political spectrum unleashed in American politics in those 32 years. And just one such attack -- one too many, but only one.

Vitriolic rhetoric comes from all points on the political compass. But many in the media, when trying to assess blame for violent acts, have an impulse to look for it only on the right.

Thus the impulse to identify as tea party types the man who crashed a plane into the Austin IRS office, the Pentagon subway shooter, the Discovery Channel hostage taker.

Or the impulse to insist that conservatives intend the military metaphors with which political discourse is riddled -- campaign, targeting, the war room -- be taken literally.

Actually, we do know of societies where people on one side of the political divide encourage and sponsor assassinations of people whom they oppose.

Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM