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Posted at 10:00 PM ET, 01/10/2011

Angry words about angry words -- is the Giffords debate helping?

By Stephen Stromberg

The debate on overheated political rhetoric is becoming overheated.

The Post's George F. Will and other conservatives denounce any implication that the right bears any kind of responsibility for the violence in Arizona. Liberals such as Paul Krugman, they argue, simply don't have any evidence connecting Jared Loughner's alleged decision to kill Giffords with anything any conservative politician or commentator has ever said. Therefore, politicizing the shootings is cynical.

But now Krugman isn't exactly blaming the right for the shooting. He and other liberals say the right has created a "climate of hate" that has encouraged violence against elected leaders, particularly Democrats. Even if the right's rhetoric didn't interact with Loughner's psychology, isn't it telling that so many people found the news tragic but unsurprising?

This argument has the advantage of being impossible to disprove, because it relies on an intuition -- that (1) the right's condemnations of the left have dramatically and negatively influenced American political culture and that (2) this context conditions individuals' decision-making. George Will doesn't really argue against this; he simply dismisses it as "superstition." And he puts it in ideological terms: Liberals want to see the shooting as a matter of cultural context because they view such events as preventable using left-wing social engineering. So construed, this debate is irresolvable.

These are terrible terms on which to discuss the tone of America's political discourse. Each side can sit comfortably with its own assumptions and argue about the lessons of the Giffords shooting, nursing its own suspicions about the other. Jonathan Capehart hopes that the debate will take a productive turn, finally convincing responsible conservatives to criticize their own. But how likely are we to see introspection with everyone so defensive? If some good does come of all this, it probably won't come from this back and forth. It's more likely to come from individual politicians and commentators being reminded of what the disturbed are capable of -- and being more careful with their words than they might have been before.

Meanwhile, the most important policy issue the Giffords episode directly implicates is that of gun control, particularly the assault weapons ban that Congress allowed to lapse, which would have limited Loughner's ability to obtain an extended magazine for his Glock 19. This is an issue that Democrats abandoned after the 2000 presidential campaign -- and an issue that, I fear, will be overshadowed by a largely unhelpful argument about assigning blame.

By Stephen Stromberg  | January 10, 2011; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Next: The Tucson tragedy: over the line


You have to be an idiot to put the cross hairs of a gun target sight over members of Congress who voted for Health Care Reform, that's crazy! The Secret Service blamed Palin's unstable rhetoric for a huge spike in death threats against the POTUS. I don't blame Palin for the Shooting, but she could really use a course in critical thinking and reasoning. Its sad to see the right wing spin machine in a full tilt boogie over this tragedy!

Posted by: BornAgainAmerican | January 10, 2011 10:40 PM | Report abuse

"Jonathan Capehart hopes that the debate will take a productive turn, finally convincing responsible conservatives to criticize their own."

The problem with this is that the shooter is not "their own" for any mainstream politician.

Why not say that he is the "Democrat's own"? Let's blame them. Or lets blame the independents for failing to support whatever we wish that they would support. These would be equally valid accusations with just as much evidence.

Responsible discussion does not start by accepting a blood libel.

Posted by: anon73 | January 10, 2011 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Stromberg...for 195 years Americans, though they screamed at each other, bought into certain common creation myths; the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, American exceptionalism, a country of opportunity, all men are created equal...

Steadily since Vietnam the Reds have chipped away at these myths, using the most vile and vulgar terms - "Hey Hey LBJ how many kids have you kllled today," impeaching a President for specious reasons fueled by a hate driven KGB uhh I mean FBI officer who was passed over for promotion and brining down a President, until we reached the nadir...."Bush Chimp," "somewhere in Texas a village is missing its idiot," etc...with a newly elected President leading the charge and insulting the SCOTUS at the state of the union message; Direct attacks on the legend of America, the founding fathers of America, white America, capitalist America, business America, American the most scurrilous and insulting terms...spitting on for our enemies (W started two wars), hatred for our friends.

And now here it comes again. A madman shoots people...and it's laid at ...guess where? Stromberg you are a Red provocateur and a disgraceful opportunist who will sink to the lowest level to accuse your fellow Americans interested in politics of murder.

Well sir turn about is fair play. You sir are a murderer and an accomplise to murder.
-- You have condoned the murder of 100 million people in red concentration camps;
-- you laughed as 25% of the Cambodia nation was marched to the killing fields by your glorious Khamer Rouge,
-- you cheered as 2 million South Vietnamese had to take to boats and 1 million went to concentration camps for years;
-- you howled with delight as Chavez declared he could govern by decree;
-- you screamed with indignation at anyone who might infer that Ortega was a dictator;
-- you have supported the Red narco terrorits FARC.
-- you have denied freedom to millions while support the right f a few to attack freedom.

In short, you sir are a scanaelous, hate-mongering, lying, red propagandist...someone who would make Dzerjinski blush.

How to you like them going to tone down your rhetoric now? Didn't think so. "Progressives" have no conscience because they believe themselves to be God...if they believed in God.

Posted by: wjc1va | January 10, 2011 10:47 PM | Report abuse

I count myself among those who were shocked, but unsurprised by the events in Arizona.

Look at this face:

I see a face devoid of remorse and completely disconnected from the enormity of his horrific acts. It would be wrong to completely blame any external agent or environmental influence for what I see in that face.

However, it would be asinine to pretend that the current discourse did not lower the threshold for violence. When it's "okay" to pack heat at political rallies, "okay" to use violent language against political adversaries (do we need to pretend it comes in equal measure from both ends of the spectrum?), and when it's "okay" to have weapons whose only apparent function is to end a human life, are we really surprised when the threshold for violence is stumbled across?

We should not politicize this, even though there will be a natural move by all sides to do so. Indeed, Loughner may well prove to be inscrutible (certainly his internet screeds and "grammar" are nearly impenetrable) and by their derangement deny such efforts in any case.

We should instead, left and right, look at that face. Then, look within.

Posted by: LincolnX | January 10, 2011 11:26 PM | Report abuse

One thing that worries me is that as a result of this event, whether it was caused by violent rhetoric or not, will be more federal monitoring of political groups. I'm a moderate liberal, and these tea party nut cases offend me, but my fear of government intervention in our lives comes from increased government monitoring of our communication.

If "offensive" or "dangerous" political views are a basis for government eavesdropping, then it's not a far stretch to anticipate that the definition of "offensive" and "dangerous" could be expanded to include political opponents.

So as we react to this awful tragedy, let's keep the fourth ammendment in mind - and if congress wants to repeal something, take a good look at the patriot act.

Posted by: Rozinante2 | January 11, 2011 12:14 AM | Report abuse

so what? No age gap is too wide if you both feel so right.We don't care about the social "norm" but chemistry. Many couples with age gap work out fine and get alone splendidly. We celebrate the age gap love and May-December romance. Check out if you are interested in ageless relationships..Why not say that he is the "Democrat's own"? Let's blame them. Or lets blame the independents for failing to support whatever we wish that they would support. These would be equally valid accusations with just as much evidence.

Posted by: sasago | January 11, 2011 3:14 AM | Report abuse

@alltheangrypeople who believe their philosophy is being attacked as causing the violence.

Listen to what's being said. It has *nothing* to do with the philosophy and everything to do with tone of the rhetoric.

Just look at wjc1va's comment (January 10, 2011 10:47 PM) and *see* the hurt and fear he is feeding.

If you care about your philosophy, then you will set an example for civil discussion, and demand that your allies tone down their angry rhetoric.

Posted by: mmyotis | January 11, 2011 6:34 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for rebutting George Will's childish rant. There has always been an ideological scream behind the self-congratulatory, smug, pseudo-intellectualism of this deep thinker.

Posted by: UncommonCommoner | January 11, 2011 7:20 AM | Report abuse

It's very hard to know if the Tuscon shooter was influenced or incited by recent heated political rhetoric.
Hopefully this a chance to take time to think and tone down the rhetoric...comparing your political opponent to Hitler, Nazis, or Stalin and saying politician x or the president is destroying the nation or our way of never helpful and should stop.

Posted by: Civilius | January 11, 2011 8:52 AM | Report abuse

David Brooks (New York Times) writes: “the early coverage and commentary of the Tucson massacre suppressed this evidence . The coverage and commentary shifted to an entirely different explanation: Loughner unleashed his rampage because he was incited by the violent rhetoric of the Tea Party, the anti-immigrant movement and Sarah Palin. “

“Mainstream news organizations linked the attack to an offensive target map issued by SARAHPAC"

“These accusations — that political actors contributed to the murder of 6 people, including a 9-year-old girl — are extremely grave.”

“They were made despite the fact that there was, and is, no evidence that Loughner was part of these movements or a consumer of their literature. They were made despite the fact that the link between political rhetoric and actual violence is extremely murky.”

“They were vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness. “

Posted by: pvilso24 | January 11, 2011 9:55 AM | Report abuse

David Brooks (mentioned already here) & WaPo's own Dan Balz both miss important points.

Brooks knows that the assassin's illness isn't rooted in politics -- then overlooks the thoroughly political scene & setting, as if this had no bearing.

Dan Balz quotes Ms. Gifford's own warning words about crosshairs & consequence, then writes as if there is not a particular reason (namely, this) for singling out Sarah Palin.

I have already said, explicitly & on the Post (a day ago) that Sarah Palin is not responsible for this shooting. Period.

She is nonetheless mortally wounded, politically speaking.

As for "humane" considerations, I say: Look, people. Think. The madman was quite sane enough to plan his murder(s) -- even writing about it beforehand. His multiple killings include (as Omen, if ever there was one) the beautiful "original" 9-11 girl. The very angels weep.

We know who did it. We see what he did. Put him to death.

Posted by: gusonweb | January 11, 2011 10:38 AM | Report abuse

Honest people see the Tea Party for what it is: the Party of Hate and Bigotry. Their goal is to destroy everything good about the USA, and bring us back into the Dark Ages, just like the Taliban did in Afghanistan.

Of course anyone who dares to tell the truth about them is likely to have a Fatwa issued against them, as did Ms. Giffords.

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | January 11, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

It wasn't the Left that called for "2nd amendment remedies" to remove Democrats from Congress. That was nothing less than a fatwa calling for assassinations for political gain. In other words: TERRORISM!

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | January 11, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Leftists and Democrats want us to focus on the (alleged) "right-wing extremism" rather than the Leftist shooters discipleship with Obama mentor, Bill Ayers. Maybe they should start with condemning President Obama, the Extremist-in-Chief.

** Obama: “They Bring a Knife…We Bring a Gun”
** Obama to His Followers: “Get in Their Faces!”
** Obama on ACORN Mobs: “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!”
** Obama to His Mercenary Army: “Hit Back Twice As Hard”
** Obama on the private sector: “We talk to these folks… so I know whose ass to kick.“
** Obama to voters: Republican victory would mean “hand to hand combat”
** Obama to lib supporters: “It’s time to Fight for it.”
** Obama to Latino supporters: “Punish your enemies.”
** Obama to democrats: “I’m itching for a fight.”

If Leftists really want to consider the atmosphere of violent language, they should start at the White House.

BREAKING: AZ Shooter is Leftist-terrorist Bill Ayers disciple

"Jared Lee Loughner, the suspected gunman in Saturday's Arizona shooting, attended a high school that is part of a network in which teachers are trained and provided resources by a liberal group founded by Weatherman terrorist Bill Ayers and funded by President Obama..."

I eagerly await the MSM’s strong denunciation of Obama’s violent rhetoric.

Own him, Leftists. He's all yours.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 12:38 PM | Report abuse

"Jonathan Capehart hopes that the debate will take a productive turn, finally convincing responsible conservatives to criticize their own."

This almost made me laugh. Liberals RARELY criticize their own, no matter what.

Posted by: Ynot1 | January 11, 2011 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Classy: Leftists Call For Assassination of Sarah Palin.!

Death threats: how progressive!

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 12:59 PM | Report abuse


"Honest people see the Tea Party for what it is: the Party of Hate and Bigotry. Their goal is to destroy everything good about the USA, and bring us back into the Dark Ages, just like the Taliban did in Afghanistan."


"It wasn't the Left that called for "2nd amendment remedies" to remove Democrats from Congress. That was nothing less than a fatwa calling for assassinations for political gain. In other words: TERRORISM!"

I know people who identify with the tea party ideology and they are good people concerned about government overreach. Yes, some of the rhetoric is over the top. Yes, it's wrong for political leaders to suggest the possibility of "2nd amendment remedies", even as a rhetorical device.

But it is no *less* wrong to compare the fanciful rhetoric of politicians and opinion writers to the very real threats of terrorists.

Your angry condemnation of an entire groups of fellow Americans is illiberal and unacceptable.

As my mom would say, if you have nothing good to say, please just don't say anything at all.


Posted by: mmyotis | January 11, 2011 1:08 PM | Report abuse

[thomasmc1957 drooled: "Honest people see the Tea Party for what it is: the Party of Hate and Bigotry."]

To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or the TEA Party, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which (based on evidence to date) would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible.

Which is it? I'm guessing (b) CONTEMPTIBLE.

I understand the desperation that Democrats must feel after taking a historic beating in the midterm elections and seeing the popularity of ObamaCare plummet while voters flee the party in droves. But those who purport to care about the health of our political community demonstrate precious little actual concern for America's political well-being when they seize on any pretext, however flimsy, to call their political opponents accomplices to murder.

Where is the decency in that?

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:08 PM | Report abuse

The satanic Westboro cult will protest at little Christina’s funeral.

“The Left does some truly despicable things in this world, but this is a new low for Democrats. Former three-time Democrat gubernatorial candidate Fred Phelps Jr. (commonly called just “Fred Phelps”) and his Westboro Hate Group have announced plans to disrupt the funeral of 9 year-old shooting victim Christina Greene.”


Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Leftists want to play "tu quoque" in the midst of a national tragedy? You got it.

The progressive "climate of hate": A comprehensive illustrated primer in 8 parts (2000-2010)

Own the seething Leftist hate-mongering venom.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

FLASHBACK August 2010: Michael Enright (Leftist interfaith film company volunteer) stabbed an anti-mosque Muslim NYC cabbie and faces trial this year.

Leftists rushed to lynch the entire Right for that "progressive" hate crime, too.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:15 PM | Report abuse

When Democrats lose an election they go into full naval-gazing mode. When Republicans lose an election they run out and buy guns and load up on ammunition.
Don't try and tell me the left is just as threatening as the right,

Posted by: newsraptor | January 11, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Can anyone imagine TEA ralliers fantasizing about Obama's severed head?

Own the seething Leftist hate-mongering venom.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Can Leftists imagine a Gifford effigy hung from a noose?

Own the Leftist violent rhetoric and vitriol.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:54 PM | Report abuse

[newsraptor bedwet: "Republicans lose an election they run out and buy guns"]

Maybe. But Leftists have a total monopoly on assasination chic.

Own the climate of hate, Leftists. The AZ shooter is all yours.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Obama's Leftist "progressives" spent the last decade on CNN committing acts of criminal mayhem during their kristalnaght-style, anti-Semitic gutter riots (masquerading as "peace" protests) in support of Islamo-supremacism to achieve their hate-America political agenda.

Yet Leftists now have the temerity to climb up on their hind legs (without a shred of evidence) and howl about (alleged) "violent rhetoric" from Taxed Enough Already (TEA) ralliers?

This shooter was one of your own. Own him.

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 11, 2011 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The only people who seem to have found the news "tragic but unsurprising" were the hyper-partisans who already proscribed to the talking point that that we're going through a period of violent rhetoric, and so concluded that this act must be a product of that, even in the face of mounting evidence (including nonsensical web posts and YouTube videos) that the shooter was noting more than a mentally unstable individual.

Asking how "likely are we to see introspection with everyone so defensive?" is a non sequitur because it assumes that the post-shooting discussion should focus on political rhetoric. That is nonsense because there is not a bit of evidence to suggest that the shooting was in any part motivated by political rhetoric.

Posted by: Fitz157 | January 11, 2011 2:47 PM | Report abuse

The incoherent ideological rantings of most right-wing posters here prove only that they are as nutty as the deranged man who emptied his Glock with such devastating effect in Tucson.

Whether that shooter was influenced by it or not, hate speech does not contribute to civilized discourse in any venue, & the only hate speech industry in the U.S. today is firmly seated in the right-wing camp.

Its money-making champions & leaders, Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, O'Reilly, & Hannity, are supported by a sycophantic gaggle of bad-mouthing radio talk shows. None of them contribute squat to moving this nation ahead. They sit back & snipe, condemn, carp, & criticize our elected & appointed officials who are trying lead our nation out of the swamp. They cynically grow rich with their money-making schtick consisting merely of smartly-worded anti-government, anti-Democrat rants.

The incessant negativism they peddle is not the kind of attitude that made our nation, but it certainly can destroy it.

Posted by: olroy | January 11, 2011 3:02 PM | Report abuse

If you believe that hate speech is firmly limited to one side of the political spectrum then you're either hopelessly partisan or ignorant of the facts.

Paul Krugman wrote:

"A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy."

Posted by: Fitz157 | January 11, 2011 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Please enlighten me: Are the 'conservatives' now saying that the inflammatory rhetoric of Palin, Beck, Limbaugh, etc. had nothing to do with this the same 'conservatives' who blame teenage sex on television, drug abuse on music and school violence on video games?

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | January 11, 2011 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Only a fool thinks their side is without guilt in the hateful button pushing and violent metaphors. One of the conservative positions I find most hypocritical is redistribution of federal dollars, when red states are all on the so called dole. I have no problem with it as a progressive knowing the lower incomes in those states create a need for more help.

Posted by: jameschirico | January 11, 2011 6:21 PM | Report abuse

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