The debate between left and right on contributing factors in the Tucson shootings has unfolded along utterly predictable and thoroughly unenlightening lines.
Liberals accuse conservatives of overheated, gun-related rhetoric that created a hostile, edgy climate that may have encouraged the killer; the right responds that there’s no evidence of Jared Lee Loughner’s conservative orientation and that liberals make equally reprehensible and irresponsible statements.
Neither side bothers to examine two highly dubious core assumptions:
1-That the Obama era constitutes a uniquely polarizing and hostile political period.
2-That assassinations take place most frequently when politicians and commentators make vicious comments against one another.
First, no American with a memory can honestly suggest that today’s political divisions count as more toxic than ten years ago -- when a majority of Democrats questioned Bush’s very legitimacy as president, or the late ‘90’s when Republicans mobilized a determined effort to drive Clinton from office through impeachment.
Moreover, where is the evidence that bitter political divisions produce murder?
The national murder rate has fallen precipitously in precisely the period (the administrations of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama) associated with ferocious partisan warfare and even (in 1995, the beginning of the plunge) an unprecedented government shutdown.
Despite the current attempts to blame partisanship and polarization for a (non-existent) “rising tide of violence” the evidence of history is clear: fierce rhetoric doesn’t cause shootings, any more than moderate, consensus politics guarantees safety for our public figures.