KUHNER: Obama’s Tucson degradation

President turned memorial program into political rally

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President Obama is cynically exploiting the tragic shooting in Tucson for political gain. His memorial address Wednesday night was a surreal spectacle in narcissistic self-congratulation. It dishonored the victims, those who were murdered and maimed by Jared Lee Loughner, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Democrat.

Instead of being a solemn and serious event, the memorial resembled a pro-Obama pep rally. The president of Arizona University praised Mr. Obama for his “visionary” and “courageous” leadership. Throughout the memorial and Mr. Obama’s speech, students regularly cheered, clapped, whistled and hollered. All the while, the president basked in his newfound glory. The address rekindled some of the magic - the euphoria, the soaring rhetoric - of the 2008 campaign. Mr. Obama lectured Americans about the need for “civility” in our national discourse. He even invoked the memory of a slain 9-year-old girl, Christina Green, urging America to use the tragedy to create a more decent, united and harmonious republic and thereby “live up to her expectations.”

The memorial should have been exclusively about the people most affected by the senseless slaughter: the victims. Six people are dead. Their families will be devastated and scarred for the rest of their lives. Ms. Giffords is lying in a hospital bed, perhaps with permanent brain damage. The purpose of a memorial is to respectfully honor and remember the deceased - to stand shoulder to shoulder with family members in their darkest hour of grief and loss. It is about the victims and their families, not the national mood or Mr. Obama’s views about “civility” in politics.

Civility - or the supposed lack of it - had nothing to do with the tragedy. Yet Democrats and the liberal media desperately have been seeking to connect the massacre to Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement. Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, blames a “climate of hate” - conservative talk radio, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News - for the shooting.

This has been echoed by numerous left-wing pundits. According to progressives, this supposed culture of “right-wing extremism” poses an imminent threat to democratic values and public security. Hence, the airwaves must be regulated and conservative opinion marginalized. Rep. James Clyburn, South Carolina Democrat, is demanding the return of the “Fairness Doctrine,” which would compel radio stations to grant equal time to leftist views.

This is a new McCarthyism: intolerance and hatred masquerading as civic virtue. Demonization trumps debate. The Tucson shooting reveals the totalitarian nature of the modern left: the willingness to seize upon the flimsiest pretexts to attack rivals as accomplices in mass murder - even when there is not a shred of evidence to support this view.

In fact, those who know Mr. Loughner are saying that the gunman never listened to political talk radio or watched Fox News. He was not some right-wing fringe militia type or a crazed Tea Party activist. He was the very opposite: the product of the permissive and destructive culture of the 1960s.

During the 1960s, drugs exploded among the youth. Radical leftists stressed the virtues of personal liberation, hailing the use of drugs, particularly marijuana, as expanding one’s “consciousness” - a bold act of self-discovery. Instead, drugs have destroyed millions of lives and minds. According to press reports, Mr. Loughner was a pothead who smoked a great deal of weed. Frying his brain with dope probably increased his mental instability.

Moreover, beginning in the 1960s, liberals stressed that the mentally ill should not be institutionalized against their will. Many people who suffer from serious psychological disorders are allowed to roam our streets. They cannot be committed to a psychiatric ward to get necessary help and treatment without their consent. Most of the homeless are in this sad situation. Many of them are not destitute because of dire economic circumstances. Instead, they are plagued by severe mental illnesses. Thousands have died because of the callous - and negligent - policies of deinstitutionalization.

Mr. Loughner was a deranged individual. He exhibited numerous symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. At his college, he repeatedly menaced his classmates and teachers, often behaving so strangely that ultimately he was expelled. His Internet postings are simply the incoherent ravings of a madman. Mr. Loughner was convinced that the government was trying to impose mind control through grammar. His motives were neither left nor right. He lashed out at Ms. Giffords and those around her because they represented authority.

The real issue - the one Mr. Obama should address at an appropriate time - is that the shootings could have been prevented. The likes of Mr. Loughner should not be allowed to walk our streets freely until some atrocity occurs. There is only one way to deal with the severely mentally ill - especially those who demonstrate frequent aggressive, threatening behavior: involuntary commitment. Society must be protected from predatory lunatics. We did it before; we must do it again.

Indeed, Mr. Loughner pulled the trigger and is solely responsible for the atrocity. But the radical legacy of the 1960s enabled him. In tandem, Mr. Obama epitomizes the self-centeredness unleashed by the permissive era by turning a memorial rooted in grief into a celebration of himself. The Tucson victims were thus brutalized by a deranged young man who should have been institutionalized and then doubly degraded by a narcissistic president who used their suffering as political fodder.

Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.

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