A Conservative’s Reactions to Reactions to the Arizona Shootings

–Richard E. Vatz

Herein are some critiques of some of the bad judgments following the Arizona shootings:

1. Those on the left who rushed to blame allegedly irresponsible rhetoric of establishment conservatives for despicable, violent acts are either irresponsible themselves or simply malicious. There are innumerable possibly over-the-top rhetorical excesses by those on the traditional left (as there are by those on the traditional right), including, but by no means limited to, prototypically President Barack Obama’s statement in June, 2008 regarding the McCain campaign that “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” and the film Death of a President, a British film fictionally celebrating the assassination of President George W. Bush, partially due to his foreign policy and war on terror. Imagine a comparable statement and act by conservatives by and toward a Democratic president and the reaction of the mainstream media. And, incidentally, the publicly accepted rhetoric by publicly acceptable sources against the Bush administration does not lack for multiple examples, but how in the world did it become funny to ridicule a Vice President (Cheney) for his multiple heart attacks? Anyone recall such humor regarding former President Bill Clinton or President Lyndon Baines Johnson?

2. That said, there is no evidence that assassins are influenced by slightly overly aggressive rhetoric by establishment players. The current accused killer, Jared Lee Loughner (we usually give significance to assassins by including their middle name), had asked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, according to his once-friend Bryce Tierney, “What is government if words have no meaning?” Angry at the lack of response to that cryptic question, Loughner apparently held a grudge and acted on his building anger. Loughner apparently detested all government bigwigs. Why would anyone think that such an individual would be affected by trickle down slightly provocative rhetoric, unless one has a conclusion and is merely searching for evidence to confirm it?

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3. “Mental illness” enters so many discussions involving despicable violence toward undeserving victims. In “The Tucson Shooter and the Case for Involuntary Commitment,” William Galston of The New Republic argues: it is a “fact” Loughner was “mentally ill” and that there were signs which permitted one to deduce this. Ergo, Galston argues, since additionally it is currently difficult to commit citizens against their will, we must liberalize commitment laws, allowing satisfaction of the criterion “a delusional loss of contact with reality” to suffice for involuntary commitment. No one who writes for The New Republic is stupid, but this is yet another example of judgment-challenged liberals proposing a policy that would destroy major tenets of democracy in America. Without going through all of the questions of who would make such a determination and how many slightly unusual citizens could be incarcerated, let me just point out that Loughner could have been arrested by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik because the killer publicly threatened people, and therefore he committed a felony in Arizona. Parenthetically, all of Dupnik’s makeshift theories concerning establishmentarian rhetoric and violence could have been misdirection to spare him charges of dereliction of duty.

Violence may be as American as apple pie, but so are the non sequiturs which emanate from people who know better or should know better.

Professor Vatz teaches rhetoric and communication at Towson University

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