A Day of Memorials: To Blame or Not to Blame

— Dan Loeb

Today the world’s attention is focused on Tucson, Arizona where President Barack Obama will be speaking at a memorial in honor of the shooting victims of the shooting. (Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself is recovering at the Tucson University Medical Center. In the photo to the left, her husband Astronaut Captain Mark Kelly is holding her hand.)

Sarah Palin: “America’s Enduring Strength”.

Many people, including Sarah Palin in this video, urge us to rise above politics and not look to lay blame for this attack any further than the gunman himself, using the epithet “blood libel” to describe the writings of her critics.

Again and again I have been told this.

However, I disagree.

During the summer of 2009, gun-rights activists started showing up at rallies and townhalls were Obama was speaking. One showed up in New Hampshire with a legal loaded handgun and a large sign reading “It is time to water the tree of Liberty” which is a reference to the following quote from Thomas Jefferson “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Someone else at the same town hall meeting was arrested for carrying an unlicensed pistol.

On August 18, 2009, CNN Reporter Ed Henry spotted two protesters with assault rifles at an event in Phoenix, Arizona where Obama was speaking at a pro-Healthcare rally. Why asked why he needed a rifle, the protestor responded “Because I can do it. In Arizona, I still have some freedoms.”

As Hal Masonberg said,

nothing spells true freedom like the ability to blow a man down in his tracks. Or to cause the President to fear that his life may be in danger. Or the lives of peaceful demonstrators at a rally.

No, nothing says freedom like physical intimidation.

And I was told to rise above politics and respect the first and second amendment rights of these protesters.

On March 24, 2010, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Tucson, Arizona district office and Rep. Louise Slaughter’s Niagara Falls, New York district office were attacked amidst death threats to a number of other Congressman involved in the passage of Health insurance reform. And I was told to rise above politics and not lay blame for these attacks.

Around the same time, Sarah Palin was hunting people figuratively. Gov. Palin created a website “Take back the 20” showing a map of the United States with cross-hairs targeting the 20 House districts won by McCain in 2008 but controlled by Democratic Representatives who voted for health insurance reform. The red cross-hair show targets already eliminated (legislators who were not seeking reelection). The exhortation “17 more to go” and the tweet “Dont’ Retreat, Instead – RELOAD” certainly invoke a threat of violence if necessary to turn the other cross-hairs red as well.

On June 12, 2010, Gifford’s challenger and tea-party supporter Jesse Kelly organized a fundraiser where his supporters could donate money in order to have a chance to symbolically “remove Gabrielle Giffords from office” by shooting a “fully automatic M16” at her effigy. And I was told to rise above politics and ignore these provocations.

The on June 17, Senate Candidate Sharron Angle said that the “Second Amendment in there for a good reason and … it’s good for a country to have a revolution every 20 years…. I hope that’s not where we’re going, but, you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying my goodness what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.” And I was told to rise above politics and ignore these threats.

How long must I “rise above politics” and how many people must die before I can begin attributing blame?

Benyamin Korn who runs the group “Jews for Sarah” says Palin is not to blame since the “shooter’s animus [against Ref. Gabrielle Giffords] pre-dates Palin’s prominence.” However, I do not accuse Palin and her allies of driving Loughner insane.

Instead, I fear that there have always and will always be deranged people out there with dangerous ideas like Jared Lee Loughner had. The difference is that the rhetoric used by the right can validate the ideas already bouncing around in the head of a border-line personality like Loughner.

I do not think that Palin and her allies wanted Giffords dead. They did however want their own day in the sun, and the use of over-the-top rhetoric and images certainly accomplishes that in a way that calm and logic never can.

Moreover, these repeated tacit threats of violence create a chilling affect on our democracy, discouraging Democrats from speaking out, and limiting any real communication between politicians and their constituents.

If that is their goal, then whether Giffords survives or not, they have already won.