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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 01/13/2011

What the left did wrong

By Jennifer Rubin

Why were the last four days a mini-disaster for the swampland of the left? It boils down to: facts, response and time.

Members of the left pounced first and didn't much care about the facts. Before it was clear just how crazy Jared Loughner is, the left blogosphere and their more high-minded print compatriots were ready to affix blame on their opponents. As the facts emerged, more quickly and thoroughly than every before in the 24/7, twitter-driven media environment, the narrative fell apart. A chorus on the left claimed causation between Sarah Palin and the killings (and then the amorphous "climate" and the deaths) and didn't much care for a careful analysis until it became clear their preferred narrative was false. As for the president, he doesn't buy it at all. He said: "And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud." (Emphasis added.) Or, as I put it, rhetorical civility and mental illness are discrete problems. And it doesn't help the liberal line when it turns out this particular lunatic was a-political and didn't watch news.

So, for my friends on the left: facts count. You can't spin a narrative and not be expected to be called on the underlying, flawed premise.

The response was unlike anything I have seen since the emergence of the new media. It wasn't just conservatives that rebutted the left's narrative, but diligent reporters. We think of "rapid response" as a campaign skill, but in reality that is how pundits, activists, reporters and politicians now react. Because the left's narrative was so noxious -- Sarah Palin or a floating cloud of conservative meanness caused a mass murder -- the right was filled with indignation and responded passionately, quickly and effectively. And, meanwhile, in the race to report on the biggest story of the year, the working press furiously disclosed the facts, which, as I noted above, undercut the left's storyline.

And then there is time. The reason I believe that Obama entirely avoided politics, indeed rebuked the Krugman-Daily Kos narrative, is because he saw the pushing and shoving, read the polls, figured which way the wind was blowing, and steered clear of associating himself with the tone-deaf left. Conversely, because the left couldn't restrain themselves, they pounced immediately and left a trail of inanity on twitter and websites.

The final lesson for the left is this: for the sake of a second term, the president is willing to throw liberals under the bus. He's going to undo their economic mantra (by supporting the Bush tax cuts). He is going to undermine their approach to their war on terror (with drones, a long-term commitment to Afghanistan). And he is even going to make the liberal icons -- Krugman, the New York Times editorial board, Keith Olbermann and the rest -- look like fools. The "paper of record" has revealed, for any doubters, that the truth is the first casualty of its op-ed page.

Conservatives nevertheless should be wary. Should he manage to get re-elected, a second term no doubt will see the undiluted Obama return (to the extent Congress allows it). But in the meantime, conservatives frequently are going to enjoy the help of the president in pushing an agenda they care about -- a robust effort on the war on terror, tax reform with low marginal rates, cuts in domestic spending and the rest. The trick for Obama will be to turn out his base in 2012 after he has spent two years belittling their reasoning and betraying their agenda.

By Jennifer Rubin  | January 13, 2011; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  Arizona shooting  
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Next: Heal thyself, Sen. Webb


Actually, you are misquoting Obama because he ad-libbed from the written speech. However, his ad-lib just further made the point that you highlight. He actually said (with the ad-lib in caps):

"And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy--IT WAS NOT--but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud."

Posted by: KHauser | January 13, 2011 9:03 AM | Report abuse

I would add a subtle difference this time around, Ms Rubin. At least a few responders on the right (Glenn Reynolds, Pejman Yousefzadeh, Charles Krauthammer) immediately reframed the argument into a counter-narrative. That had powerful effect, allowing the reading public to choose which position made sense.

Unfortunately, most commenters on the right "dance" with the narrative the left presents with positions that negate (Sarah Palin? No, not Sarah Palin...) or palliate (Sarah Palin? Well, maybe, but...) Responses of this type basically validate the left narrative and turn the discussion into unappealing mush for readers, giving them no clearly framed choice.

The left has long been able to count on such feeble responses from the right and so has always prospered via their first-impressions-last strategy of immediately throwing out a narrative no matter how faulty. Let's hope writers on the right follow the few good examples this time around and put an end to the left monopoly of the storyline.

Posted by: Chazzle | January 13, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

I think in Jennifer's world every day is a "mini-disaster" for the left, even if the facts do not actually support her position. I think Obama or other left-leaning partisans could adopt her every position, and she would still find fault, because otherwise she has nothing to write about.

Posted by: mustangs79 | January 13, 2011 9:30 AM | Report abuse

Had the shooter died in the act...the left would be better off.

Described as "leftwing" and "liberal", the shooter will go on trial

The democrat Pima County Sheriff, Dupnik failures.....the mental health laws democrats passed to deinstitutionalize......and the false blame assigning of the left...

....will all be brightly illuminated and reiterated by the coming trial.

Liberal shoots democrats.....oh my!

Posted by: georgedixon1 | January 13, 2011 9:33 AM | Report abuse


A voice of sanity here at Wa Po.

Posted by: MartinChuzzlewit | January 13, 2011 10:03 AM | Report abuse

The left may have egg on their, ahem, collective faces, but I think Obama comes out smelling like a rose.

It's a little disconcerting to think about political fallout, good or bad, from an incident like this. But, since it became so political, it's unavoidable.

Yeah, the Krugmans of the world are looking pretty silly. But they don't matter. The President gave a great speech last night and clearly took the high road and rose above it.

Posted by: ContrarianLibertarian | January 13, 2011 10:13 AM | Report abuse


I love the smell of Krugman, et al under the bus in the morning. It reminds me of...VICTORY!

Remember to keep your head down, libs -- the second axle hurts much worse than th first.

Posted by: furious_a | January 13, 2011 10:15 AM | Report abuse

P.S. Credit where credit is due...

..the cheering and whistling from the student section was inappropriate and the President's remarks were a little long-winded for a memorial service, but...

...his tributes were fitting, his comments were unifying, and, quite frankly, the imagery of the First Lady in tears clasping Cong. Giffords' husband's had me choked up, as well. Bravo, Mr. President!

Posted by: furious_a | January 13, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Is there anything in the radical conservative rhetoric that could make a reasonable person think deranged people might be inspired to violence? How about: the right of revolution, the need to water the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots, the need for guns to protect agains the tyranny of the government then demonizing that government as a tyrannical enemy, questioning the legitmacy of the president and provoking anger by distorting the health care legislation? Considering the frequency and intensity these comments, I think the answer is Yes.
Even if the shooter left a statement saying Glenn Beck told me to do it, that would not prove Beck's responsibility. The guy is crazy. We can't know why it did it and maybe he doesn't know himself. I believe it was quite reasonable to conclude that over-the-top rhetoric might have played a part.
When a brown-skinned person with a Middle-Eastern name commits an act of violence, many people jump to similar conclusions. Have you protested and questioned the premise when that happens?
I really don't know the answer to that question, but it seems that some of the same people who have been so quick to protest erroneous conclusions in the Tucson shootings are up front shouting about the existenial threat of Islam in other contexts.
Metaphors are not the problem. The problem is rooted in those who mine hatred and vitriol for votes.

Posted by: Betsy7 | January 13, 2011 10:25 AM | Report abuse

The mainstream media will never again be able to create a narrative that is contrary to the facts. Their day, for the most part, is over. The internet and talk radio, among other things, serve as a kind of modern day Paul Revere sounding the alarm whenever we are fed a load of BS and act as a necessary corrective.

Posted by: gord2 | January 13, 2011 10:35 AM | Report abuse


The Liberal Left cannot be blamed for the way they think.
Here's the truth. The Left like to say they are logical and rationale.

Since there is little logical or rationale about hatred, madness and evil they can not grasp this as a reason for anything.

THEREFORE, there must be a reason, an excuse or a scapegoat for anything associated with madness and evil.

It is why the US is blamed for Al Qaeda; why the Economy is blamed for burglary; murder; Why racism is blamed for poor public education, drug use and inner city violence; why Fox News is blamed for this; why the Government is blamed for Bernie Madoff and Enron; why gun control is blamed for the death of John Lennon (or was it Catcher in the Rye?); and why Israel is blamed for everything else.

The liberal left just doesn't understand the motives of evil, bad choices and madness since it is irrational.

Posted by: scsiegel | January 13, 2011 10:43 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Rubin, Thank you. This was perfect.

Posted by: lopence | January 13, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

OK City II was defeated before it began. We knew their strategy:
"Never let a crisis go to waste".

And their tactics:
"Obama needs another moment like the Oklahoma City bombing to reconnect with the country."

Everyone knew it was coming, and everyone was prepared.

Posted by: azmountaintroll | January 13, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

"I think Obama or other left-leaning partisans could adopt her every position, and she would still find fault, because otherwise she has nothing to write about."

There is always Sarah Palin.

Posted by: DocC1 | January 13, 2011 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Sorry - but any fool could see that the right took a beating in the past 4 days.

But keep spinning and keep washing those hands.

Posted by: PulSamsara | January 13, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

" ... any fool could see that the right took a beating in the past 4 days."

Sure. As long as it is in fact a fool who's doing the seeing.

Posted by: Jeroboam | January 13, 2011 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Rubin, what a nasty little partisan hack you are. You create more spin than the harlem globetrotters. What truly took a beating in the last 4 days is the inflamed, divisive rhetoric that has spewed forth from your side for the last several years. Following this shooting, despite the fact that this rhetoric may not have influenced the shooter, it will no longer be acceptable to call yourselves "real" Americans which implies the rest of us aren't or vilify the government or Obama with loaded terms and phrases - marxist, communist, socilist, etc. The hate speech itself has a big fat crosshairs on it and any politician or pundit foolish enough to keep it up will go down in flames.

Posted by: rgray | January 13, 2011 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Blood libel! Blood libel!

Posted by: MagicDog1 | January 13, 2011 1:32 PM | Report abuse

Witless defenders like Rubin (or Glenn Reynolds) aren't doing the teapartiers any favors. It should be unacceptable to bring "We came unarmed [this time]" signs to events, yet not only is Rubin not speaking out against that, she's enabling more of it. And, every time that happens in the future, the MSM is going to "play the Loughner card". Rubin would have the teapartiers keep acting like disturbed children at public meetings, and that's now not going to be tolerated. The next teapartier who acts out at a public meeting will probably at least get tasered.

And, any political gains the teapartiers have been able to obtain from this tragedy are built upon lies, such as not telling people that Loughner's friend who said he wasn't political hadn't seen him for two years:

See the FAQ linked at the end of that for more that you won't hear from Rubin or the teapartiers.

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | January 13, 2011 1:34 PM | Report abuse


We'll take the 57-60% that agree with us in the polss and you take the 26% that agree with you. Last time I looked, those percentages were landslide-like.

rgray places these gems in the same post:

"Ms. Rubin, what a nasty little partisan hack you are" and "inflamed, divisive rhetoric that has spewed forth from your side"

Are we to take that post seriously?

Posted by: gord2 | January 13, 2011 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Obama talks the talk (today at least). Let's see if he can walk the walk! He wasn't able to his first two years.

Posted by: philrat | January 13, 2011 2:11 PM | Report abuse

@Betsy7: I believe the line about the tree of liberty watered by the blood of patriots is from Thomas Jefferson. Does he count as one of your "deranged people" who are inclined to violence? Well, he was indeed a revolutionary. If you don't want him, I'm sure plenty of libertarians and conservative constitutionalists would be happy to have him counted on their side.

Posted by: mikem23 | January 13, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

The big mistake of both sides is framing the entire world and every event in it in terms of "Right" and "Left." Actually, the vast majority of Americans, including those with mental illness and others just overwhelmed by recent economic losses, the failure of government to act in positive ways, and their fears for the future, are neither. Many, a number that has been growing consistently for decades now, in fact have been thoroughly discouraged by the cynical and increasingly power seeking (rather than problem solving) antics and alienating, bullying and bombastic language of both sides. This shooter was not only seriously mentally ill, he was also, apparently from the testimony of those who knew him, deeply affected by the often crazy, disillusioned, nihilistic, conspiracy minded and increasingly insane conversation that is taking place outside the mainstream media, and in many lives taking the place of the ill tempered mainstream political conversation -- on the internet, and at times on the fringes of talk radio and Fox (in the person of Glenn Beck). The movie Zeitguist which he took to heart can not be labeled as conservative or liberal. But some of its paranoid notions about the Fed, gold currency, the "second constitution," etc. are being repeated and given currency in conservative media (once again, most forcefully by Beck).

Stop worrying about the liberals and start worrying about the insanity that is being encouraged by the failure of our mainstream political culture and the willingness to make a buck in any degraded way possible exhibited by ALL our media -- "mainstream" and otherwise.

Posted by: mschumacher1 | January 13, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

mschumacher1 :

You write:

"This shooter was not only seriously mentally ill, he was also, apparently from the testimony of those who knew him, deeply affected by the often crazy, disillusioned, nihilistic, conspiracy minded and increasingly insane conversation that is taking place outside the mainstream media, and in many lives taking the place of the ill tempered mainstream political conversation -- on the internet, and at times on the fringes of talk radio and Fox (in the person of Glenn Beck)."

I have no great love for Glenn Beck, but on what evidence do you base your comment. As far as I know, this is typical of what his closest friends in recent years say (as reported on Good Morning America): "He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the left. He wasn't on the right."

Posted by: gord2 | January 13, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

gord2: your teaparty leaders tried to mislead you, and they did a pretty good job of it. The person interviewed on GMA - in the same interview - admits that he hadn't seen Loughner for *two years*.

Did your teaparty leaders tell you that?

People - especially those in their teens and early 20s - can change a lot in two years.

But, your teaparty leaders didn't tell you about that. They tried to mislead you and everyone else.

For the actual facts, start at the FAQ:

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | January 13, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Thanks Whacker. But I am not a Tea Party member. and I do not find the site you promote to contradict anything I said and to the extent it attempts to do so, it engages in supposition and conjecture. All the evidence suggests that in the last two years Loughner's grip on reality loosened quite a bit, which would suggest to me he was less likely than he was two years ago to be persuaded by anything political at all.

Posted by: gord2 | January 13, 2011 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Gord2 --

I didn't say he watched Glenn Beck. I said that the sources for his ideas that his friends spoke of were extreme and outside the mainstream media (which includes Fox). But, these extreme ideas have been, more and more, creeping into mainstream media, including the conspiratorial ideas about the FED, the "2nd Constitution" etc. Beck is one of the most notable people who has brought some of this insanity into more conventional media.

Once again; I didn't say the shooter got his ideas from Beck. I said that the media has, irresponsibly, been increasingly willing to exploit the fear and unease of the current moment, and earn a degraded buck, by introducing some of the insane and frightening ideas into the mainstream conversation. That should be a concern to everyone who cares not only about civility, but about the continuing viability of our political conversation and the country at large.

Posted by: mschumacher1 | January 13, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I still haven't forgiven Jefferson and Monroe for what they did to Hamilton.

Posted by: aardunza | January 13, 2011 4:49 PM | Report abuse


I'm all for civility in political discourse and resonsible journalism but you speak too generally for me to make any sense of your critique. I honestly don't think that major media outlets, ie, ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS, Fox, CNN, national talk radio, even MSNBC and Glenn Beck and Bill Maher, etc. promote fringe ideas. Maybe some minor league talk radio and knuckle-headed bloggers do, but in a nation of 308 million, I dont' think they influence the national conversation.

Sorry, I guess we need to agee to disagree.

Posted by: gord2 | January 13, 2011 5:07 PM | Report abuse

The final lesson for the left is this: for the sake of a second term, the president is willing to throw liberals under the bus.


I think that the final lesson is that for the sake of a second term, the president MUST throw liberals under the bus. He pretty much backed off while Pelosi and Reid ran with a leftist agenda and ended up losing 70 Congressional seats.

With the address in Tucson and the tax deal I think he's learning.

Posted by: bbface21 | January 13, 2011 5:32 PM | Report abuse

Gord2 --

I didn't say they influenced the national conversation. I said they exist outside of the "national conversation" as it is now being so narrowly defined. (Although, as I also said, in exploitive, cynical ways they are starting to creep into the national media -- Beck's various conspiracy mongering being the best example.) The "national conversation" isn't a national conversation at all -- its a media, beltway, mostly elite class conversation that now excludes most Americans' reality and the actual issues they live with. Look at the kind of materials that DID influence the seriously ill man who took those lives in Tucson and you will see that the narrowness of that "mainstream" debate has created a vacuum that is being filled too often, unfortunately, with a lot of nihilism, paranoia, ever greater distrust of government, community, authority and others, and, at times, outright insanity, pouring mostly from the internet (with some also reflected on radio). It is in that ever-widening ideologically incoherent center -- not a happy or reasonable center as the beltway types imagine, but an increasingly alienated, angry and confused one that does not see its concerns reflected in the mainstream media conversation and political debate -- that the Tucson shooter lived and lost himself. Instead of trying endlessly to assign blame for this to one ideological side or the other, it would be much more fruitful to acknowledge that BOTH sides have contributed to the growing disillusionment of the (non-ideological) nation at large.

Silly attempts to divide everything into Left and Right, silly columns about what one "side" or another did "wrong" in the media context Ms. Rubin is concerned with, is not really political debate. Its hot air expended in an ideological attention and power struggle that in no way engages or attempts to address the real issues facing the American majority. Placing rifle sites on a representatives district isn't political debate, its political theater. It's not a tool to make a persuasive political argument addressing genuine issues. It's merely attention getting symbolism intended to create publicity for the power seeking political player who uses it. Equally, agruments blaming this imagery after a tragedy like this, when framed in nothing more than the usual Right/Left finger pointing, are not actually meant to make the conversation more civil -- they are just the other "sides" continuation of the pointless attention seeking and power jockeying -- attemtion seeking and power jockeying that have long replaced fruitful political debate and action.

Posted by: mschumacher1 | January 13, 2011 6:58 PM | Report abuse

"The narrative is what leftists believe in instead of the truth. If they can blame George W. Bush for the economic crisis, if they can make Sarah Palin out to be an idiot, if they can call the Tea Party racist until you think it must be true, they might yet retain power..." - from "The Hateful Left" on City Journal by Andrew Klavan.

Progressivism is a faith. How else to explain the instantaneous progressive response to the Arizona tragedy when there was, and still is, no rational reason to blame anyone but the shooter? How else to explain the irrational belief in the "catastrophy" of anthropogenic global warming - oops, cooling - oops, climate change, and the "booming green economy?" How else to explain the dogged faith in chimeras like "raising taxes increases revenue," "government creates employment," and "deficit spending creates lasting economic growth?"

Yet these zealots assume themselves to be the intellectual (and moral) superiors of any and all who may disagree. They cannot easily be reasoned with because their most cherished beliefs are not based on reason. At least I sincerely hope that is the case, otherwise, their intellectual giants like Paul Krugman, for example, are astonishingly cynical.

Posted by: Fr0sty | January 14, 2011 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Every time I read a piece by a conservative I wonder how much gasoline they had to huff to get so demented. Jared Loughner is just the furthest right on the spectrum of conservative mental illness, the one so detached from reality that following the frequent, loud public exhortations of his fellow conservatives in the movement was something worth the time to get up off that couch, get motivated and actually do something for his people. I don't understand why conservatives aren't touting this as a win, a successful execution of publicly stated conservative policy. He got 6 tags on his liberal hunting license and crossed out the "un-" from his "we came unarmed this time" t-shirt. Doubly embarrassing that Limbaugh had to take down his Tucson "Straight Shooter" bulletin board.
The extremist positions of today's conservative movement are an abomination to this country and a shame upon the name conservative. America love it or leave it means don't shoot Americans, at the most basic level, doesn't it? Don't talk about shooting people when you're really just peeved about some minor policy difference. Cowards.

Posted by: sparkplug1 | January 14, 2011 4:48 PM | Report abuse

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