WALL STREET JOURNAL – On all available evidence, Jared Lee Loughner is a mentally disturbed man who targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and anyone near her in Tucson on Saturday because she was prominent and they were tragically accessible. He joins Sirhan Sirhan, John Hinckley Jr. and many others whose derangement led them to horrible acts of violence. Whatever confused political motives he expressed seem merely to be part of the maelstrom of his mental sickness.
In a better world, no one would attempt to exploit his madness for political gain. We would instead focus on the contributions of Ms. Giffords, by all accounts a laudable public servant. We would celebrate the lives of the other victims, and we would praise the survivors who intervened to tackle Mr. Loughner and disarm him before he could kill others—like 74-year-old retiree Bill Badger, who was grazed in the head by a bullet before helping to restrain the shooter.
But the shooting news had barely hit the wires on Saturday before the media’s instant psychoanalysis put the American body politic on the couch instead of Mr. Loughner. “Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics,” declared a story in the New York Times, which focused primarily on the tea party and Sarah Palin in the context of mass murder. The story even hauled in opposition to health-care reform.
Politico, the Beltway website, chimed in by quoting a “veteran Democratic operative” advising the White House “to deftly pin this on the tea partiers,” just as “the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people” in 1995.
Shouldn’t a publication insist that someone urging the exploitation of murder at least put his name on the record? The same goes for the anonymous Republican Senator quoted by Politico denouncing “town halls and cable TV and talk radio” in relation to Mr. Loughner.
At least one left-wing site also put Ms. Giffords on such a “target” list because she is one of the Blue Dog Democrats who doesn’t vote the party line. And yesterday right-wing websites were reprising this or that quote from Democrats and even President Obama invoking some martial or weapons metaphor to suggest they are as culpable. This is as offensive as the blame-Republican implications in the New York Times.
Judging from Mr. Loughner’s own website, his mind was a mess of conspiracy theories, influenced by tracts like “Mein Kampf” and the “Communist Manifesto.” His main complaint about government seems to be that he believes it is trying to control American “grammar.” Yet this becomes an excuse for the media to throw him in with the tea partiers as “anti-government.”
Perhaps we will learn more as the investigation unfolds. But so far this case couldn’t be more different than that of Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood killer who was motivated by Islamist hatred of America. Yet it is notable that the press corps was more restrained in identifying Major Hasan’s Islamist role models than in immediately stretching to link Mr. Loughner with American politicians who universally denounce such violence.
Ponder the implication of this. A deranged soul shoots a public figure and we are supposed to change our political discourse and rule certain people and opinions out of bounds based on whatever incoherent ramblings Mr. Loughner published on his website?
Every two years we hold elections so that sane Americans can make a judgment on the policies of President Obama, John Boehner, tea party candidates and so on. But even though the people have recently had their say, in a typically raucous but entirely nonviolent fashion, we are supposed to put that aside and assess what a murderer with a mental illness has to tell us about the state of American politics, government and our national dialogue.
This line of argument is itself an attack on democratic discourse, and it is amazing that it even needs to be rebutted. Taking such an argument seriously will only encourage more crazy people to believe they can trigger a national soul-searching if they shoot at a political target. We should denounce the murders and the murderer, rather than doing him the honor of suggesting that his violence flows in any explainable fashion from democratic debate.
President Obama does have an opportunity here, but it is not to link—”deftly” or otherwise—his political opponents to Mr. Loughner. This would only further poison and polarize our public debate. Mr. Obama can lift the level of public discourse by explaining the reality of Mr. Loughner’s illness and calling out those on the right and left who want to blame the other side for murder. That would be a genuinely Presidential act of leadership, and it would have the added advantage of being honest about the murders in Tucson.