Politics & Policy

Conservatives in the Crosshairs

The Left is wrong to tie metaphorical violence to literal violence.

It’s been only two days since a murderous rampage left six dead — including a nine-year-old child and federal judge John Roll — and 14 wounded, including Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot point-blank in the head and who, as of this writing, is still in critical condition but (all things considered) “doing well.” Thank God for that.

The bullets had hardly stopped whizzing when a cataract of commentary descended. The first inundation came mostly from the Left. Its basic message was epitomized by Paul Krugman: The shooting was probably politically motivated. The Tea Party. Sarah Palin. Scary. “The climate that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing.” Beck. Limbaugh. “The evils of Partisanship.” “Culture of hate.” Et cetera.

#ad#I wrote about Krugman in my PajamasMedia column, explaining how he and his ilk showed the world “How to Turn a Tragedy into an Emetic.” Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old psychopath who shot those people in Tucson, was not inspired, egged on, or motivated by conservative opponents of Obama. He isn’t a poster boy for right-wing “hate-mongering.” He isn’t, come to that, a poster boy for left-wing hate-mongering, either. He is just a delusional, homicidal fantasist. The effort by Krugman and others to invest his actions with political import — more precisely, their efforts to blame others for this horrific episode and thereby garner political capital for their side — was itself an act of fantasy, alternately repellent and mendacious.

This has been amply pointed out by the second inundation from that cataract of commentary: the many pieces from the other side of the aisle pointing out the fact-free nature of left-wing paranoia sweepstakes. Several pieces specialized in the game of compare and contrast. Byron York, for example, was one of many who pointed out that if you’re a Muslim fanatic who mows down 13 people at Fort Hood while chanting “Allahu Akbar!” the watchword is caution: Let’s not jump to conclusions here. He was just a “lone extremist.” Islam is a religion of peace. Etc. But just let the lunatic be a white boy from the heartland and, bingo, field day. Sarah Palin. Culture of hate. The whole nine yards. As Jennifer Rubin noted, “You can almost hear the disappointment from the left that he was a pothead rather than a Tea Partyer.” (See this roundup at Instapundit.)

The irony — or maybe it’s just good old-fashioned hypocrisy — is that while Paul Krugman, Chris Matthews, the Daily Kos, et al., stridently bewail “the culture of hate,” their own rhetoric is much more intemperate than that of their opponents. Moreover, as several commentators have pointed out, it takes only a comparative visit to some Tea Party rallies, on the one hand, and some anti-Bush or anti-Palin rallies, on the other, to register a wide discrepancy not only in rhetorical tone but rhetorical substance. At one you are likely to see signs decrying socialism, big government, Obamacare, high taxes, etc. At the other you are likely to see signs advising you that “Bush = Hitler,” proclaiming the imperative “F*** Bush,” etc. Really, it is instructive to compare the rhetorical temperature, and general drift, of the two sides. One complains about various policies.  The other complains about “a culture of hate” while at the same time wallowing in it. (One commentator to my PJM column supplied this sobering roundup.)

Why the discrepancy — or, rather, why doesn’t the discrepancy register more forcefully on the great Geiger counter of public sentiment? That is a deep, or at least an elusive, question. Part of the answer, I think, lies in the same psychological metabolism that commends what we call “liberalism” (no matter its generally anti-liberal tendency). If you say you are in favor of something we as a society think is commendable, then it matters little that your actions or your policy conduce to the opposite.

#page#Consider, to take one example, everything we can aggregate under the rubric of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. Has there ever been a greater gap between announced goal (the abolition of poverty, helping the underclass, etc.) and the actual effects? Johnson’s programs were in fact engines for the spread of poverty and multi-generational dependency. But all it took were a few rhetorically skillful politicians to mount the hustings and tell you they were engaged in a War on Poverty and, presto! susceptible souls rolled over on their backs, waved their arms and legs in the air, and emptied their wallets. (Actually, the government did the emptying, but you see what I mean.)

This isn’t a whole explanation, not by a long shot. But it at least gets us into a neighborhood of plausibility, unlike the commentary that asks us to tut-tut over the fact that Sarah Palin includes maps that “target” Democrats on her Facebook page. (Oh, dear: The Democrats do that for Republicans, too! Who knew?)

#ad#What we have here in the tortured left-wing effort to enlist the ghastly Arizona shootings into their anti–Tea Party campaign is yet another example of political correctness on the march. The great irony, as I intimated a moment ago, is that all this vitriol should be marching under a banner called “liberalism.” There is nothing liberal, nothing having to do with freedom, about it. It is all about control: power in the hands of a nomenklatura and submission visited upon you and me, my friends. It’s the good old strategy of Lenin, dusted off and infused with some new names. It all boils down, however, to what Lenin said politics was all about. Not the control of faction and controlling the power of the state so that individual freedom could flourish. That was the idea of earlier tea partiers such as James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. No, Lenin’s idea, like Krugman’s, is “Who/Whom.”

What so infuriates the party of the Left is that those on the accusative side of the equation have woken up and have decided they don’t like it. It’s a bit like the chap who came across the most amazing animal: It protects itself when attacked. Message to the world’s Krugmanites: Get used to it. We’re on the march, we’re targeting you, you’re in our crosshairs, and, no, this is not an incitement to “hate” or political divisiveness: It is what politics in a democracy is all about. 

— Roger Kimball is publisher of Encounter Books, and co-publisher and co-editor of The New Criterion.

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