January 10, 2011

On Jumping to Conclusions

When I started feeding the silence earlier this month, I said that I wasn't going to talk about politics all that much, as I was burned out on the never ending "my team versus the other team" dynamic in the country.  Politics, at least my impression of politics, has moved on from the staid debates of the Sunday morning talk shows to being something like a 24-hour version of SportsCenter.  We got a tragically typical example of that over the weekend.

Before the bodies were cold in Tuscon on Saturday, the political angles of the shooting, which left six dead and another dozen wounded, were being calculated.  The left saw the shooting as a political act, tied in with and spurred on by rhetoric during the recent election about "Second Amendment solutions" and other such nonsense, and not without some basis.  Giffords's office windows had been shot out, apparently because she dared to vote in favor of health care reform.  And, of course, she was one of those Congresspeople targeted by Sarah Palin's PAC in an ad utilizing rifle sights to designate targets.  The right denied any connection between rhetoric and action and offered up some clearly bullshit responses, such as that the sights in the Palin ad were "surveyor's crosses", not rifle sights.

Perhaps the best sum up of how these things devolve into left/right affairs it noted in this Salon piece about the alleged shooter's list of favorite books on his MySpace page:
Conservatives pointed to Loughner's citation of "The Communist Manifesto" as proof that he was a leftist maniac and liberals interpreted his enthusiasm for Ayn Rand's "We, the Living" as evidence that he was a right-winger.
Not to toot my own horn, but when talking about the incident with the girlfriend on Saturday, I said that I thought a purely political motivation was unlikely.  There simply isn't a history of mass killings as political act in this country.  When an assassin targets a politician, there usually isn't a great deal of collateral damage.  As the girlfriend pointed out, killing a whole bunch of innocent bystanders - including a 9-year old girl (born on 9/11, no less) - would not do any cause any good.

Based on what we know now, which is still far from everything of course, the alleged shooter looks to be simply nuts.*  Based on his YouTube videos (screen shots helpfully preserved at TalkLeft), he appears to be paranoid and prone to conspiracy theories.  Might the ramblings about "currency" tie into the whole "get us back to the gold standard" argument of some libertarians and other right wingers?  Maybe, but it's hardly a strong tie in.  As John Scalzi puts it:
What little I’ve seen — which is basically what everyone else has seen to this point — doesn’t convince me this is about politics as anyone but Loughner understands it. We may (and probably will) learn more as time goes on. But for the moment, I’m of the opinion that whatever this is about, is about Loughner, rather than the overall state of politics in the United States.
Nevertheless, it looks like the incident might cause folks to focus a bit more on political rhetoric with violent images or overtones.  That's a good thing.  But let's try and talk about the issue without trying to score political points for our side.  Sometimes, you've got to turn off SportsCenter and get beyond the tribalism.  Whether we can do it or not, I have no idea.

* To paraphrase someone, he may be crazy, but he's not stupid.  According to reports, the alleged shooter had asserted his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent, so that may slow down the explanatory process a bit.  He's now in the hands of one of my colleagues from Arizona, who has a heck of a mountain to climb over the coming years.

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