This could be Barack Obama’s finest moment. He wouldn’t have to invite anyone in for a beer. He wouldn’t have to find a foreign potentate to bow to with abject apologies for the manifold sins of the America of liberal and “progressive” imagination.
All he has to do is act like a president.
He could tell the lynch mob to put down their rope and call off the hanging of Sarah Palin. He could employ his famous gifts of rhetoric to tell the hysteria-mongers in his party to get over their disappointment that the Tucson gunman is not the rabid rightwinger of left-wing wishes and dreams. He’s more likely to be the “left-wing pothead” his acquaintances in Tucson say he is.
Mr. Obama could even concede that he contributed to “a climate of hate” when he went a little over the top in instructing a Philadelphia fundraiser two years ago how to deal with Republicans: “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” He could say that this was meant in jest as something Rooster Cogburn might say, expressed in the heat of a boisterous campaign rally and hardly meant to encourage anyone to actually take his Bowie knife down from the shelf and find a plump Republican to slice and dice.
There’s even a precedent for such a gesture. When a woman at a Republican town-hall meeting in 2008 asserted that Mr. Obama was a closet Arab and probably a Muslim to boot, John McCain swiftly and sharply disagreed: “No, ma’am, he’s not. He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to disagree with.”
But the president probably won’t do that. He just can’t. Partisan lines are too vividly drawn. The news of massacre in Arizona had hardly spread beyond Cochise County before pundits and pols in the East started pumping out poison - prefaced, of course, with oily expressions of sympathy and condolences for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of the loon identified as Jared Loughner. The condolences were usually accompanied by ritual assurances that the pundits and pols were praying for the souls of the dead and the wounded bodies of the dying. The churches and synagogues of Washington and New York were surely jammed with penitents elbowing each other aside to get in to pray. Or maybe not. Soon it was back to rejoin the lynch mob.
There were few warnings by pundits and pols that the public should not “jump to conclusions” about who Jared Loughner might be. Every right-thinking person knew he was a sleeper agent programmed by George W. to be activated with a code word from Sarah Palin. There was no mystery about who this suspect was, not like the shooter at Fort Hood in 2009 who shouted “Allahu Akbar!” as he killed 13 people. We were warned by a roster of media and government glitteries not to “jump to conclusions.”
The warning became a mantra. “We cannot jump to conclusions,” said Gen. Wesley Clark. “We have to make sure we do not jump to any conclusions whatsoever,” cried CNN commentator Jane Velez-Mitchell. “We can’t jump to conclusions,” said Army Gen. George Casey. When Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, suggested to CNN that the Fort Hood massacre was an act of terrorism, John Roberts, the interviewer, quickly shut him up. “President Obama has asked people to be very cautious and to not jump to conclusions.”
But this time everyone, having lunched on Mexican jumping beans, set off on a panic of conclusion-jumping. Politicians, weary of answering criticism and complaint and now worried about their own safety, see an opportunity to put a sock in the mouths of unhappy constituents. The sheriff in Tucson blames talk radio for the massacre. Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, the No. 2 man in the Democratic minority, thinks the peasants are getting too much information. “Far too many broadcasts now and so many outlets have the intent of inciting, and inciting people to opposition, to anger.”
Right on cue, another congressman is ready to ride to liberate us from the tyranny of the First Amendment. Rep. Robert A. Brady, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, has legislation ready to make it a federal crime to use language or symbols that could be “perceived” as threatening or inciting violence against a federal official or member of Congress. You can bet that the “perceiver” will be a congressman.
Someone must step up to spike the madness. Mr. President, we’re ready for your close-up.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.