One insane attack should not trigger police state

BIRNBAUM: Don’t compound heinous act with error

By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum

The Washington Times

The horrific attacks in Tucson, Ariz., constitute a wake-up call, but not one that requires more action. It requires less.

Sadly, we’ve been reminded that violence and extremism still produce a lethal brew. With good reason, some lawmakers will try again to stiffen gun-control laws to make it even harder for unstable individuals to buy a firearm. That’s a debate worth having.

But beyond that, Congress faces the serious danger of overreacting. Two bad ideas in particular are being discussed widely.

1. Members of Congress – and maybe their families – should have federal security guards.

2. Pundits, particularly from the political right, have to be muzzled for fear that their rhetoric will inflame more destruction.

The second issue needs to be discussed first.

The suspect in the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords was deeply disturbed, not politically astute. The notion that Jared Lee Loughner went after a Democratic member of Congress because he was incited by the hyperbolic language of Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin is absurd.

CNN actually ran a segment over the weekend that quoted Mrs. Giffords complaining recently about Mrs. Palin running an item on her website that placed cross hairs over targeted Democratic districts during the midterm elections – including Mrs. Giffords‘.

Suggesting that a deranged gunman took Mrs. Palin‘s illustration literally is a stretch at best.  There is no evidence that Mr. Loughner even saw Mrs. Palin‘s website. To blame Palin for the tragedy is sophistry and, clearly, partisan.

There is no evidence that Jared Loughner even knew there was a Tea Party, let alone that he acted because of its advocates’ views.

For decades, civility and politics have not been words that could be put in the same sentence. That’s not preferable, but it is what it is. A gruesome aberration, like the shooting in Arizona, should not be used as a trumped-up excuse for one side of the political spectrum to try to vilify the other.

Separately, some people in official Washington are seriously suggesting that members of Congress receive armed security protection at all times. How else to prevent a repeat of the Giffords incident, they suggest, which killed six people and severely injured the congresswoman?

The answer: many ways, and every one of them would be better than surrounding elected officials with armed guards. The specter of a police state – which is what such protection would look like – is the very last thing Washington decision-makers should want, especially at a time of heightened distrust of government of the kind we have now.

Lawmakers should not be guarded routinely by the government – that is, embraced by it – because that is the opposite of the real situation. Members of Congress stand for re-election at regular intervals and are tossed out with similar regularity. Voters have the upper hand, not the government of which lawmakers – temporarily – become part.

Nothing should be done to alter that impression of transience, especially at a time when the polls show that voters are eager for a more responsive government, not one that is less so.

But our form of government thrives because it allows voters to have real contact with their elected officials. Closing that down or even limiting it sends the wrong signal in the short run and, over time, could well undermine the democracy we all hold so dear.

We should not allow the act of a crazy person to alter the two-century course of the greatest and most successful experiment in the history of government. That would be an overreaction all of us would regret.


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Syrin
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 23:40:39

    The available evidence dates Loughner’s fixation on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to at least 2007, when he attended a town hall of hers and felt slighted by her response. In 2007, no one had heard of Sarah Palin. Glenn Beck was still toiling on Headline News. There was no Tea Party or health-care reform. The only climate of hate was the pervasive post-Iraq campaign of vilification of George W. Bush, nicely captured by a New Republic editor who had begun an article thus: “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it.”
    Everyone uses warlike metaphors, less then positive imagery in describing politics. When Barack Obama said at a 2008 fundraiser in Philadelphia, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” he was hardly inciting violence.

    Why? Because fighting and warfare are the most routine of political metaphors. And for obvious reasons. Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power – military conquest. That’s why the language persists. That’s why we say without any self-consciousness such things as “battleground states” or “targeting” opponents. Indeed, the very word for an electoral contest – “campaign” – is an appropriation from warfare.

    When profiles of Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, noted that he once sent a dead fish to a pollster who displeased him, a characteristically subtle statement carrying more than a whiff of malice and murder, it was considered a charming example of excessive – and creative – political enthusiasm. When Senate candidate Joe Manchin dispensed with metaphor and simply fired a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill – while intoning, “I’ll take dead aim at [it]” – he was hardly assailed with complaints about violations of civil discourse or invitations to murder.

    Massacre, then libel


  2. Syrin
    Jan 11, 2011 @ 23:52:48

    There’s something offensive, as well as pointless, about the politically charged inquiry into what might have been swirling inside the head of Jared Loughner. We hear that the accused shooter read The Communist Manifesto and liked flag-burning videos—good news for the right. Wait—he was a devotee of Ayn Rand and favored the gold standard, so he was a right-winger after all. Some assassinations embody an ideology, however twisted. Based on what we know so far, the Tucson killings look like more like politically tinged schizophrenia.


  3. californiacruisin
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 04:19:28

    First, it isn’t absurd to think that individuals in the lunatic fringe would take the violent rhetoric literally and act on it. Words do have consequences. One has only to spend time on a playground to see children acting out the behavior of their favorite TV or movie characters. That behavior is seen at all age levels in school. Second, the fact that Loughner had fixated on Giffords in 2007 doesn’t preclude him from being influenced by current rhetoric to violently act on his fixation. It also doesn’t automatically mean that the current ramped up vitriol motivated him to finally bring a violent end to his political frustrations. However, it surely is possible.

    As for the protection of members of Congress, when someone has been “targeted” as Giffords was by Palin AND her opponent, Jesse Kelly, in the last election, absolutely that person should enjoy the secret service protection. However, to automatically give that protection to all members of Congress is ludicrous.

    It is puzzling to me that people are jumping up and down to defend the vitriol. A better question to ask ourselves might be: Why aren’t we promoting civility and intellectual discourse with equal vigor? It would seem that thoughtful, well-supported statements from our public figures would promote an atmosphere of intelligent cooperation that is sorely needed in our country at this time. Personally, I think the world has enough hate and ugliness without our politicians adding to it.


  4. AFM
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 06:18:40

    I don’t care if this guy is a lefty or a righty. Sarah Palin has always incited hate. When the map first came out everyone said she was inciting killings. I remember when they talked about it on the view way back when it first appeared. They said as much and yes even Elisabeth said she was citing hate.


  5. Another housewife
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 07:37:36

    I think that she stirs the pot. People are like sheep. An atmosphere is created when a couple of people start picking on someone. Palin was/is looked up to by many. I think she is part of the storm that she was creating. She should have backed down from digging in like she had. She’s never backed off or shown a genuine nice side. It never ceases to annoy me by how she wants to be taken seriously and how, when she is, she acts like people should have known better.


  6. jason karov
    Jan 12, 2011 @ 08:26:34

    Sarah had ONE chance to get her response to this right, after Rebecca Mansour ( evidently some sort of Palin proxy) LIED on the Tammy show
    about the bulls-eyes being surveyors marks. Not only that, but they scrubbed the “Reload” target graphics from Palin’s websites right after the shooting.

    So Sarah now shows up on a canned TV response (with Teleprompter)
    and doesn’t redeem her ONE CHANCE to seem Presidential, or even decent.
    She doesn’t admit that some people COULD misinterpret the targeting.
    She doesn’t admin that Glen Beck saying out loud that he’d like to murder Michael Moore was over the top
    She doesn’t ask people to stop bringing loaded guns to political events.
    She doesn’t REPUDIATE the “2nd amendment remedy horror of Sharron Angle fame.
    She doesn’t admit any remorse, guilt, or even have a rational discourse on
    why crazy people might take incendiary comments, or calling Obama “Hitler might be taken the wrong way.

    All she does is parrot back a ghostwritten piece full of pablum, puce, and platitudes. Anyone who knows Sarah, can tell she doesn’t normally speak
    like that, as it’s lacking any “Folksy” betchas, flippin’ and eye winks.

    She’s backed herself into a corner of denial and religious self righteousness,
    and doomed any chance of a run at the white house. Period.


    • Another housewife
      Jan 12, 2011 @ 10:44:40

      Jason, don’t forget that Sarah has a sewer mouth. She didn’t give a folksy, gratuitious curse word in this.


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