Three days after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona was gravely wounded and six bystanders killed in a rain of gunfire at a Tucson, Ariz., shopping center, some conservatives have begun to push back against charges that their rhetoric has created a political climate which encourages such violence.
They say evidence is mounting that alleged gunman Jared Lee Loughner is a disturbed individual with almost incoherent philosophical beliefs. Mr. Loughner is a registered independent who did not vote in the 2010 elections, and his bookshelf includes works more commonly thought to be leftist, such as “The Communist Manifesto,” say some on the right.
“I don’t see any political trend there, more than just a mindless rage. I think to add more to that is to give him too much credit,” said Rep. Trent Franks (R) of Arizona in a Fox News interview on Monday.
Representative Franks said he was disappointed that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik “politicized” the tragedy in its immediate aftermath by saying that America’s political discourse now features too much dangerous vitriol.
Other Republican lawmakers have seconded Franks’ comments – although in a restrained manner, given the sensitivity of the subject.
“No expressed opinion, liberal or conservative, was to blame for Saturday’s attack, and we must resist efforts to suggest otherwise because to do so has the potential to inhibit freedom,” wrote Rep. Mike Pence (R) of Indiana in a statement.
The conservative blogosphere has been less restrained. The blog Red State opined that in blaming the acts of an insane lone gunman on conservative rhetoric “the left puts a bullseye on the right.”
At least one poll indicates that voters may agree that heated rhetoric is not to blame for the shootings. A CBS News survey released Tuesday found that 57 percent of respondents felt that the nation’s harsh political tone had nothing to do with the tragedy.
Survey results showed a partisan gulf on this finding, however. Sixty-nine percent of Republicans, but only 49 percent of Democrats, felt that US discourse was blameless.
Sarah Palin has come in for particular criticism that her rhetoric helped create the climate for violence. Prior to the elections, her Facebook page posted a map of the US with cross hairs on congressional districts represented by Democrats the GOP thought vulnerable. Giffords’ district was one of those so marked.
Ms. Palin has been largely silent in response. On Monday conservative commentator Glenn Beck said on his show that he had received an e-mail from the former Alaska governor that said in part that “our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence.”
Meanwhile, some Democrats say that Republicans have become too sensitive to requests that they tone down their rhetoric.
Though much of Loughner’s writings are nonsensical, some indicate adherence to ideas of the far-right Patriot movement, they note.
“Until it becomes clear why he acted, nobody should assign specific political motives to his violence. But what is clear is that this horrific attack occurs in the midst of a poisonous and dangerous political environment that’s been fostered, in large part, by conservatives that have been too willing to paint political opponents as existential enemies who must be eliminated,” concludes the Progress Report, a blog associated with the liberal Center for American Progress.