First and foremost, The Hedgehog Blog joins our fellow citizens in wishing condolences to the families of those killed in the Tucson shooting, and in praying for the rapid recovery of Representative Gabrielle Gifford and the others wounded in the incident.
That having been said, I utterly reject the idea that robust political debate provoked the deranged young man into his shooting spree this past Saturday. Insanity knows no political ideology. All of the personal acquaintances interviewed by journalists concur that the shooter was a deeply disturbed individual. There is no evidence, for example, that either the Tea Party movement or Sara Palin's website had any influence on him whatsoever. Indeed, evidence suggests that the assassin's pathological fixation on Representative Gifford began after he met her in 2007, well before either Sara Palin or the Tea Party movement rose to prominence.
As Bret Baier and Bryan York both have noted, following the Fort Hood shooting, by Nidal Malik Hasan, who frequented radical Islamist websites, spouted radical Islamist ideology, communicated with a radical Islamist terrorist leader and fugitive from U.S. prosecution, and shouted "Allah Akbar" before opening fire on his unarmed fellow soldiers, political pundits on the left frequently admonished us to be cautious about attributing a religious or political motive to Hasan's murderous actions. Apparently, for at least some on the left, no such hesitancy need be adhered to when the source of the alleged provocation is legitimate conservative political expression. If a graphic on Sara Palin's website put a target symbol over several Congressional districts identified as vulnerable for defeat of a Democratic incumbent, including the district of Representative Gifford, why that makes her responsible for the shooting in Tucson.
No matter, as Glenn Reynolds notes in today's Wall Street Journal, that the left-wing Daily Kos website used nearly identical imagery in calling for Representative Gifford's defeat in the Democractic Primary by a "progressive" candidate, stating that Gifford's district was "bullseyed." No matter that President Obama famously remarked in a 2008 campaign speech in Philadelphia that "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." No matter (although Professor Reynolds does not raise this example in his column) that during the George W. Bush administration, anti-war protestors carried wanted poster placards with photos of President Bush and Vice President Cheney, festooned with the legend "Wanted Dead or Alive." As Professor Reynolds notes, "When Democrats use language like this...it's just evidence of high spirits, apparently. But if Republicans do it, it somehow creates a climate of hate."
Please do not misunderstand me. I agree that our society would benefit from a lowering of the vitriol level in political expression on both sides of the spectrum. Our criticism of our political opponents always should be expressed with respect, and with an awareness that both the left and the right want the best for our country, although they differ radically on the means to achieve it. Finally, there is no question that the enduring genius of the American democratic republic is that our Constitution and political system allows for peaceful political change, as we just experienced in the last election.
But if I have to choose between avoiding offense and vigorous political debate, I will choose free expression every time. Every notorious shooting is followed by calls for gun bans; yet the Second Amendment to the Constituion has been held to prohibit blanket prohibitions on firearms. If I would not countenance an unconstitutional ban on gun ownership in reaction to the Tucson shooting, I certainly will not countenance a stifling of political expression.