Politics & Policy

Defending the Tea Party

The Right calculates its response to the Left’s smears.

GOP strategist Mary Matalin calls the Left’s reaction to the Tucson shootings a symptom of Palin Derangement Syndrome. “[It] is a longtime byproduct of the inability to defend or advocate an agenda,” she says. “No honest, sane person would think anyone other than a crazed or evil person could gun down a child, a judge, a congresswoman, or anyone randomly in a shopping mall.”

It’s an attack that leaves Tea Party members in a difficult position. If they opt to defend themselves and point out the obvious facts — there is zero evidence tying shooter Jared Loughner to the Tea Party, or even to the Tea Party’s broad political positions — they risk looking callous and shallow, willing to put politics ahead of a nation’s need to mourn.

Many Tea Party lawmakers are following Palin’s lead: issuing a statement expressing sorrow and horror at the shootings and then staying silent. But a few have announced that they would like the politicizing of a national tragedy to end.

“I believe that people should focus on the tragedy of this horrible act of violence, and stop trying to use it to score political points,” says Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) in a statement to National Review Online.

Tea Party members on the House side are striking the same note. “My theory is that we really should be focusing our attention on the victims, those who have passed, and Congresswoman Giffords as she struggles for her life,” says Rep. Tim Scott (R., S.C.).

“Now is not the time to get into guessing what the shooter’s motives might have been. This isn’t about left versus right,” remarks Rep. Kristi Noem (R., S.D.) in a statement to National Review Online.

In a speech delivered Monday, Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) emphasized the importance of avoiding “personal verbal attacks” when talking to political opponents. “But we must also resist the temptation to assign blame to those with whom we differ for the acts of others,” he said.

So far, the public agrees. A CBS poll released yesterday showed that 57 percent of Americans believe that the shooting is unrelated to today’s “harsh political tone.”

But Matalin worries that the verbal assaults, while failing to destroy the Tea Party’s credibility, will distract the nation from solving more pressing matters. “In tragedies like Tucson, more despicable than the Left’s predictable random demonizing of conservatives is their irresponsible abrogation of constructive dialogue,” Matalin argues. “Should we have more protection for congresspeople? Should we be able to detect and deter such dangerous, demented people?”

Before we can address those issues, if we ever do, we’ll have to endure a debate over the graphics on Sarah Palin’s Facebook page.

— Katrina Trinko is an NRO staff reporter.

Katrina TrinkoKatrina Trinko is a political reporter for National Review. Trinko is also a member of USA TODAY’S Board of Contributors, and her work has been published in various media outlets ...

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