There are times when even the capture of the culprit fails to quench people's thirst for justice. This usually happens in the wake of horrific, mind-bending crimes, like the shooting in Arizona on Jan. 8 that left six people dead and 13 others wounded. The gunman's intended target, a congresswoman, has barely escaped with her life.
But in the heated aftermath — sparked by comments by the Tucson, Ariz., sheriff, who is a close friend of two of the victims — there seems to be a wider indictment being brought by some in the media. He suggested that a general political climate of intolerance caused these events. These comments seem to be inspired more by grief over losing a couple of close friends than any actual evidence about the motivation for these crimes.
Following suit, pundits and commentators began to blame everyone — from Sarah Palin to Rush Limbaugh to Arizona's gun laws and even the gunman's poor parents — for what happened. Almost everyone is being blamed — except, of course, for the suspected gunman himself. Of the scant evidence that has emerged about the troubled shooter thus far, he seems to be a mentally unbalanced loner with a sick celebrity obsession and a penchant for violence. This act does not bear the markings of a rational person with any coherent political viewpoint or party affiliation.
On a broader level, however, perhaps the desire to lay blame for the Tucson event points to a collective desire to reconcile the abnormal. It creates a need to explain the unexplainable. This is why we get conspiracy theories — the JFK assassination, 9/11 "truthers," etc. Sometimes the world is what it is. But nevertheless we will try to explain it, and generally we look to societal influences. Yes, the gunman bought the gun legally at a gun store. Yes, we live in an age where political rhetoric — sometimes inflammatory rhetoric — fills the airwaves.
And yes, we live in a society where the mentally insane are not imprisoned before they commit crimes. All of these factors could have contributed in some way to the very specific event that happened in Tucson. Could have. However, as Occam's razor states — sometimes the best solution is the easiest solution — and in this case, all signs are pointing to suspected gunman Jared Lee Loughner being a schizophrenic psychopath.
No one tried to politicize President Reagan's assassination attempt by John Hinckley Jr. Everyone realized and accepted that he was a whackjob. I guess in a 24-hour news cycle, declaring an obvious crazed psychopath as exactly that is too much to ask.
Instead, the media insists on finding underlying motives — "What did we as a society do to make him that way?" So the first partisan out the door to blame conservatism and the tea party grabbed the limelight and the news cycle. "Oooh, look a Palin graphic using cross hairs to represent which representatives she was going to try to help defeat. Well, Loughner obviously saw this and took it literally. It's her fault."
Give me a break. If you honestly, in your heart of hearts, believe that Mrs. Palin or any other politician, including President Obama, who has used violent metaphors to make a political point is advocating bloodshed and random killings to enforce ideals, then you need to take a step back and take a deep breath.
This isn't Rome at the fall of the Republic. Legions loyal to one man are not set to cross the Rubicon/Potomac and defend their leader/ideals by force. That's like blaming the guy that yells at the TV for the linebacker to rip the quarterback's head off, then when the quarterback is seriously injured after the sack, everyone starts blaming the guy who yelled.
Let's be realistic about what has been recently decried as "vitriolic speech that uses violence as a metaphor." Politics is an extension of warfare by more peaceful means; it has always used war terminology. We can pretend that this tragic event will induce some new age of enlightened discourse and civility, but it won't. Americans love a fight. Why are news opinion shows argumentative and insulting? Because the civil ones don't get any ratings and are canceled quickly. So if you want a nice, polite debate and decry the lack of courtesy, you need to do your part and not watch "Hardball With Chris Matthews," "The Sean Hannity Show," "Real Time With Bill Maher" or "The O'Reilly Factor" because each of these shows is programmed to cater to the public's taste.
The American media feeds off hysteria. The whole point of Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" was to point out this fact, yet the media runs off and feeds the fear monster again. And then the politicians jump on the bandwagon. Rep. Heath Shuler's going to carry a gun to town hall meetings; Rep. Robert Brady wants to make it illegal to use words or images that could be construed as violent or threatening to public officials; and Rep. Dan Burton wants to enclose the public viewing gallery of the House in Plexiglas to protect the legislators from citizens "throwing explosives or attacking legislators." (Apparently, he has no faith in the fine men and women of the U.S. Capitol Police and the security equipment in being able to screen visitors.) And, of course, let's not forget the latest gun-control bill to be rushed to the floor following any kind of violent act. I just have to say, "Has everyone taken crazy pills?"
No, no, no. Insulating politicians from their constituents is the worst thing you can do. Isn't one of our biggest complaints about Congress, and Washington in general, is that it is too insulated from the rest of America? So now we should overreact and make our leaders even more distant?
This overreaction is the same as we've seen post-9/11 — more and more security to the point where grandmas are being strip-searched. Need more examples? Too much salt in your diet? You're going to die! You eat BBQ? You're going to get cancer tomorrow! Teenagers watch "The Matrix"? They are going to shoot up your school! Kids playing "Dungeons & Dragons"? They worship Satan! These are actual examples of media hysteria, and it needs to stop.
So what can we take from the shootings in Arizona? Could we be more civil? Sure, but let's be realistic, that will only happen for a month at best. Is the world a crazy place and sometimes terrible things happen? Most definitely. Do we need a media lynch mob to make an accomplice out of innocent folks? Certainly not. Can we live life easier if we don't give into fear and hysteria? Yes, we can.
• Armstrong Williams is on Sirius/XM Power 169, 7 to 8 p.m. and 4 to 5 a.m., Monday through Friday. Become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/arightside, and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/arightside.
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