Within hours of yesterday’s terrible Arizona shooting, Republican and Tea Party leaders rushed to release statements offering condolences. Conservative leaders have also begun as much subtle damage control for their agenda as is feasible this early after the tragedy without offending voters and the families devastated.
The attack, which apparently targeted Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killed six people, including a federal judge and a child, and wounded 13 others. The motives of the suspect are currently unknown but the 22-year-old white male apprehended so far had posted incoherent anti-government ramblings on the Internet. Congresswoman Giffords, known as a centrist Democrat, has been targeted intensely by Republicans and Tea Party groups for her support of healthcare reform and other issues. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin even aimed for her in her heavily criticized House district “crosshairs map.”
There are two striking things to note about prominent conservative leaders’ statements after the attack. The first is their eagerness to subtly associate themselves with the victims while neither apologizing for nor acknowledging the violent undertones of their anti-Democrat rhetoric before the shooting. Republican House Speaker John Boehner condemned the “violence against public officials” but added that “public service comes at a risk” and “an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.”
The subtle but misleading implications are that conservative leaders are both blameless and somehow equally threatened. Conservatives seem to be playing into a patently untrue popular misconception, fueled by a news media intent upon appearing “unbiased,” that both parties have an equal number of extremists. In reality, rightist extremists have been responsible for nearly all major politically motivated violence in the last several decades and true left-wing extremists (e.g. violent Marxists, etc.) are thankfully an extinct breed in this country. Aside from the tiny group of people still clinging to Black Panthers groups, the American “far-left” is characterized by antiwar campaigners, immigration rights supporters, and gender equality advocates, who at their most extreme support issues like government-provided health insurance and international pacifism.
Meanwhile Sarah Palin, who, if she’s like any of the rest of us should feel terribly guilty and concerned about whether her violent rhetoric (including urging people to “reload” and “take aim” at her political opponents) turns out to be the biggest of many accomplices to the deaths, is apparently unwilling to offer any kind of apology for her possible role. In her statement, Ms. Palin did not even offer her own condolences, but pointed out in passive voice that her “sincere condolences are offered” to the families. In March 2010, when Ms. Palin first published her target map, many people including Congresswoman Giffords were horrified and worried about its possible violent ramifications. In response to the outrage, Ms. Palin retorted, “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD” and refused to take the map down until after at least six people were killed (her spokeswoman now says that the map suddenly disappeared a few hours after the shooting because it is “no longer relevant now that the election is over”).
The second notable element of Republican leaders’ statements after the shooting is how, even less than 24 hours after the attack, they have attempted to use the tragedy as an excuse to continue their own divisive agenda. Judson Phillips, founder of one of the major Tea Party groups, used the shooting as a reason to lash out at “the left.”
In support of the his party’s new year agenda, House Speaker John Boehner proclaimed, “This inhuman act should not and will not deter us. No act, no matter how heinous, must be allowed to stop us.” Republicans intend to begin their legislative work by repealing the recently passed healthcare reform legislation. Congresswoman Giffords’s support of the legislation coincided with vandalism at her district offices, death threats, and intimidating Tea Party rallies at her offices. Using the tragedy as an excuse to repeal the legislation that Congresswoman Giffords helped pass at great risk to her person is a perverse response from an American political leader.
Congresswoman Giffords is a fantastic example of a principled but thoughtful commonsense leader. Her service to America has been remarkable and my hopes are with her family and the other families devastated by the shooting.