Conservatives will be tempted in the days ahead to blame the left’s over the top anti-Republican, anti-Trump rhetoric for the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise and the others wounded in Alexandria on Wednesday. It will be tempting both because leftist leaders have thrown all decency aside as they vent against those with whom they disagree and because in the hours following the shootings Twitter was awash with messages emanating from the progressive fever swamps celebrating the shootings because Republicans “deserve” whatever they get.
In addition, of course, the left has never hesitated to blame conservatives for violence even when those who resort to it have no link whatever to the right. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by a Marxist-Leninist worshipper of Fidel Castro more than a half century ago, the left blamed the people of Dallas whose conservative views allegedly created the “atmosphere” that led Lee Harvey Oswald to kill a president. The charge was absurd on its face, but repetition has made it part of the folklore surrounding Kennedy’s death.
More recently, when a nut shot former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed a judge at an Arizona mall back in 2011, the left and, indeed, Democratic leaders blamed conservatives in general and 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in particular for the shooting; once again because they had created an “atmosphere of hate.”
So, if turnabout is fair play, some will conclude that the current “atmosphere of hate” engendered by a party that declares itself “the resistance” and charges that Republicans are in league with Moscow to destroy the American experiment in democracy, spend their time concocting ways to aid the wealthy at the expense of the poor and hate women, gays and every minority imaginable. If one accepts the concept of group guilt, it would be easy enough to draw a line from the calls for a president’s assassination and a woman “comedian” appearing on television with a likeness of the president’s severed head to the shootings in Alexandria.
After all, the nut who opened fire on Mr. Scalise and those with him was a Bernie Sanders supporter who thought Mr. Trump is a Nazi and apparently supported every progressive cause and position imaginable, but to conclude from that that Mr. Sanders or others who disagree with Republicans are somehow responsible for his acts is absurd as is the conclusion by some in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination that John Tower, the Lone Star State’s conservative senator bore part of the blame for Oswald’s actions because he had been critical of the president and his policies.
Mr. Sanders reacted quickly to the news that the shooter was a supporter. He condemned the shootings and the shooter alike, pointing out in the strongest terms that “violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society.” Mr. Sanders may be a socialist, but he’s an American and when it comes to speech parts company with those who would celebrate any act to shut down their opponents. In that sense he is more an old-fashioned liberal and, yes, a Democrat than many of his followers and the leaders of today’s Democratic Party.
The Alexandria shooter may have been a calculating evildoer or simply a madman, but his act was his unless it can be proved that he was part of a larger cabal of extremists and should not be blamed on the millions of Americans who may share his views, but would never contemplate doing what he did and are, one suspects, as horrified as Mr. Sanders, that he had been in lurking their ranks.
Progressives are already trying to head off criticism, by once again blaming not the shooter, but the Second Amendment for the violence. Republicans support firearms freedom and must therefore take responsibility for the act of the shooter because, well, he used a gun and if guns didn’t exist he couldn’t have shot Mr. Scalise. That’s a feint that won’t work and they know it, but it’s such an ingrained part of their mantra that they have to try though down deep they must realize that it was the shooter and not the gun.
Conservatives actually believe in the right of Americans to speak freely and even irresponsibly. They believe in individual responsibility, reject group-think and group responsibility and should reject the temptation to ignore those beliefs for some ephemeral tactical rhetorical advantage. The left plays by different rules; rules of which they should be ashamed. Conservatives should resist the temptation to stoop to their level.
• David A. Keene is editor at large at The Washington Times.