The Aftermath of Tragedy

by Andrew Stuttaford

Just one day after the tragedy in Arizona, it is far too soon to come to a definitive judgment on what motivated the alleged assailant (or, for that matter, assailants: there’s still talk of a second suspect). From what one reads Loughner seems to be profoundly disturbed, to say the least. It’s worth adding that it’s not particularly unusual for psychological disorders to find expression in bizarre or extreme political beliefs. Equally, it’s no great stretch to believe that such an individual might have picked up on what the New Yorker’s George Packer describes as the “static” of current political debate, a good word that Packer then abuses by confining to some of the wilder rhetoric heard on the right in recent years. The vitriol thrown in the direction of the George W. Bush administration merits no comment.


That’s not atypical. The rush to judgment in the aftermath of the shootings has been revealing. Glenn Reynolds has an interesting round-up as does the Daily Telegraph’s Toby Harnden. The London Spectator’s Alex Massie has some very sensible things to say on this topic too.


While, as I note above, it’s too soon to come to any definitive conclusion as why Loughner may have done what he is alleged to have done, it is not too soon to say that what we witnessed yesterday in some sections of the media was a distasteful attempt by some on the left to use guilt by unproven association to delegitimize their political opponents. There were others who didn’t go so far, but even reasonable-sounding appeals for a cooling of the language of contemporary debate (not necessarily a bad thing, although check out Slate’s Jack Shafer on this) look more like an attempt to muzzle opposition than a bona fide call for the restoration of civility when they come from individuals who either participated in the verbal excesses of the campaign against “Bush/Hitler” or did little or nothing to condemn it. In fairness I should stress that there were those on the lefthand side of the aisle whose initial response to the horror in Tucson was beyond reproach.  


Thinking about this last night, I re-read a section of James Piereson’s book Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. In it, Piereson writes of how Jackie Kennedy reacted on hearing who Lee Harvey Oswald was:


“It had to be some silly little communist. It even robs his death of any meaning.”


Actually it didn’t; but no matter. In the days that followed the assassination in Dallas a more politically convenient narrative was created in the New York Times and elsewhere that somehow transformed a murder by a psychologically unsettled leftist into a crime emblematic of a bigoted America scarred by right-wing violence.


Food for thought….

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