Passing Blame

A disturbed shooter is not a political responsibility

It’s hard to think about much this week aside from the Tucson shootings, but I didn’t think my column would have anything to do with that tragedy. I was wrong.

While trying to make sense of something so awful, two things came to mind initially. First, mental health services must be deficient. Second, how could Jared Loughner walk into a store and buy a gun? I defer on both points to elected representation to address, or not.

A third point struck me later: blame.

It was Sarah Palin’s fault with her crosshairs electioneering. It was the Tea Party bloc and their anti-government vitriol. Or maybe Sharron Angle and her ”Second Amendment remedies.”

Reflexively, I thought yes, yes, yes – because blame is so tempting. But when something feels good, that’s all the more reason to be cautious.

As a gay American, I’m certainly used to being blamed for whatever ails the country. From 9/11 to hurricanes, from dead birds to the end of civilization, blame the gays.

It’s from that perspective that I have to raise an eyebrow when an obviously disturbed young man opens fire on a crowd and it becomes Sarah Palin’s fault. Do I think her gun-sights flier was irresponsible? You betcha. Do I think the Tea Partiers say awful, inflammatory things that defy logic? Certainly. But it’s shortsighted to think these people have a monopoly on irresponsibility and lunacy. I’ve written before that these screaming-point sound bites are debasing America, but with history’s pendulum swings, both the left and the right have been guilty of this.

When Lynette ”Squeaky” Fromme greeted GOP President Ford with a gun, she said she was defending the trees. I care about the environment, too, but that doesn’t align me with this Manson-cult loon. Same goes for the Ted ”Unabomber” Kaczynski.

These two had political leanings that could be considered leftist. I could be considered left-leaning, but I won’t be aligned with the likes of them.

And although some point to Loughner as having political motivations, shooting a crowd of people is not a political assassination. He looked at 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and pulled the trigger. How could that be anything but evidence of mental imbalance? In a different time and place, I imagine that Loughner would be just as likely to have joined the armed, leftist Symbionese Liberation Army as to have shot a Democratic member of Congress. Loughner, at first glance, may seem to be part of the right wing, but that doesn’t mean they own him any more than gays own Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, Andrew Cunanan or Wayne Williams.

Again, however, the temptation to blame is there. That blame implies, however, that the one assigning blame is somehow superior – a very dangerous path to start down. It might feel good, with everything the right has been lobbing at progressives since Obama took the White House, to be able to call them out when their chickens come home to roost. It’s an indulgence to avoid.

The Tea Party and its ilk did not invent political vitriol. Our history is rife with conflict. Charles Coughlin spewed his anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The Civil Rights era saw us fighting in the streets – so did Stonewall. And America’s bloodiest war, the Civil War, is the one it fought with itself. There were no ”good ol’ days” that were any better than today.

Still, there is the potential for Tucson to be a turning point in American political discourse. Maybe it will remind us to debate, rather than argue. Perhaps it will prompt us to greater scrutiny. At least, I hope, it will show us clearly that every issue is more complex than the stark black and white we’d like to paint it.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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