When Jared Loughner put a bullet in Gabrielle Giffords' head and then opened up on the crowd around her, killing, among others, a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, there was a moment, before anything was known about the assassin or his rationale, when we were all pretty sure that somebody had finally snapped and made good on the myriad threats of violence and reprisal against their political opponents that characterize the state of the right's current political discourse. Even Sarah Palin's people believed it, as evidenced by the speed with which they tried to take down the target map and relabel the cross-hairs on it 'surveyor's symbols.' When it came out just how batshit crazy Mr. Loughner turned out to be, you could practically hear the sigh of relief from those whose livelihoods and political agendas depended on the language of insurrection and revolutionary murder.
With their next breath, they started yelling about how it wasn't their fault, and fuck anybody who said otherwise.
After all, as anyone who's seen his YouTube videos can attest, Jared Loughner is obviously crazy, and since the mind of a crazy person is unknowable to us sane folks, it must serve as explanation enough for his actions. It couldn't be the fault of the people on the right, because Jared Loughner wasn't political. He didn't subscribe to the platform of the Republican Party. He wasn't a Tea Party activist. Sure, his political philosophy has a lot in common with the Sovereign Citizens movement, but they are, by definition, not sufficiently organized or coherent as a political faction to point a finger at, so shut up and quit trying to pin this on the people whose violent rhetoric is as pervasive as graffiti used to be in New York City.
Do you see where this is going?
Once upon a time, crime in New York seemed to be an intractable problem. No matter how many arrests were made and criminals locked up, crime rates just kept going up, until somebody finally hit on the idea of addressing the environment this was all taking place in. Cops started busting people for all the low-level stuff, like graffiti and window-breaking, that they'd used to ignore while they chased
the real bad guys, who robbed and murdered and raped and such. Things got cleaned up some, and suddenly New York didn't look like the kind of place you could just not give a fuck in. And lo and behold, crime rates went down, significantly.
Turns out, environment matters. When the ground was covered in broken glass and the walls with graffiti tags, people unconsciously absorbed that information and acted accordingly. The pervasiveness of decay and disorder was internalized, and it didn't seem out of place to beat somebody down and take their wallet or shoot that guy from the next neighborhood over for walking down the wrong street. But when the city got cleaned up some, and didn't look like the kind of place you could casually commit a crime in, people internalized that, too, and crime went down. It was a real accomplishment, and it revitalized the city and its reputation significantly.
And that's why, even though you can't draw a straight line from any particular right-wing rabble-rouser's call for revolution or other violence against their political opponents to Jared Loughner's Lone Gunman routine, people like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle and Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage do indeed share in the responsibility for what happened in Tucson. They are culpable in that the environment they have helped to create is one in which it seems perfectly reasonable on an unconscious level to prescribe Second Amendment remedies to the sickness that is the other side of the political debate. After all, if things are as bad as they are routinely made out to be, and the left half of America is genuinely devoted to destroying all that is good and righteous and beautiful and true about our great nation, then it is absolutely appropriate to cock your Glock and start spraying.
I think they know it, too, which is why they've doubled down. Why their protests are so loud, so strident. Why they've adopted the 'I'm rubber, you're glue' tone that they have in the last few days. Because when you traffic in absolutes, you can't ever admit that you were wrong.
I'm a big believer in free speech, and all of these assholes do in fact have the right to say the things they do, and I will defend that right, in word and in deed, from any who would try and take it away. But something that seems to get lost in all the endless bloviation is that rights come with responsibilities, and the refusal to take responsibility for the consequences of their words and actions, however indirect, speaks volumes about the characters of such people, and is an indication that maybe we ought not to listen to them anymore. That maybe we ought to turn the discussion back over to the grownups, who recognize that there are things in this world, lots of them, about which reasonable people might disagree, and who will engage in serious and reasoned debate about those things, with minds opened to the possibility that the other guy might have a point and hearts aware that he has to live in this world too and that he's acting in good faith and trying to make it a better place, even if the way he wants to go about it is different from the way we might.
It won't happen, I know. But a man can dream, can't he?