Culture

Why the Rush to Politicize Atrocities Should Make Us Queasy

Lucina Quezado prays at a memorial in San Bernardino, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (including the roughly 100 percent of my readership who never offer suggestions for Dear Reader gags),

Other than the actual murder and maiming, the thing I hate the most about mass murderers of all stripes — be they psychopaths, jihadists, white supremacists, Luddites, gangsters, or a radical faction of “Up with People” — is the mad rush by observers to yoke the slaughter to a political agenda.

I’m not excluding my own side, or myself, from this indictment. If you hung out on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, you could feel the eagerness and frustration out there. Like my dogs working themselves up into a frenzy as I put on my shoes too slowly for their perambulatory needs, people strained against the chains of the news flow, yearning to get to the point where they could launch their “Ah ha!” attacks at the other side.

One could feel the dark hope in the TV coverage when word broke there was a Planned Parenthood near the site of the mayhem in San Bernardino. You could hear the fingers crossing over at MSNBC: “Please, let it be a white, anti-abortion, Ted Cruz donor named Sven Borgenson or Chet McDongickle!” The thought occurred to me while I was watching all this unfold in the Fox greenroom that someone at the Southern Poverty Law Center picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.

RELATED: The Left’s Assault on ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ Revealed Its Anti-Christian Bigotry and Rank Political Posturing

But the longer it took for law enforcement and the media to release the names of the perpetrators the more obvious it was that there weren’t going to be any Chet McDongickle Most Wanted posters.

It turned out — this time — that the murderers had Muslim names. And they were terrorists. And the disappointment in some quarters is almost palpable. I caught some of Morning Joe from my hotel room before I left for the airport. The caption for one discussion was “Were They Radicalized?” I keep seeing stories asking this question as if it’s some great mystery we may never get to the bottom of.

The media and the Democratic party are working very, very, hard to pound the wet clay of San Bernardino into a story about runaway gun violence in America.

Just curious: What discrete piece of info are we waiting for to get a definitive answer to that question? Because I thought it might be the thousands of rounds of ammo, the remote-control-car-bombs, the decision to abandon their six-month-old daughter, the contacts with terror suspects and, oh yeah, the murder of 14 people. But hey, that’s just me.

So “we” were right this time. But all one has to do is consult that sick feeling we all had when the news first broke that it could have gone the other way. In which case we would be having a replay of the argument we had last week, when Robert Dear barricaded himself inside a Planned Parenthood and murdered three people.

And I hate it. Either way, I hate it. I hate everything about it. I hate to be seduced, even slightly, into that way of thinking. I hate the rush to score atrocities on a political calculus, before we even have time to breath, never mind mourn.

I wrote about this after the Newtown shooting (probably more eloquently than I’m managing here on a flight back from Houston), and I still feel the same way.

A Question of Manners

I’m no ingénue. I understand how politics works, particularly in an age when politicians can openly say that a “crisis is a terrible thing to waste” and pay no political price for it. In an era when political activism has become not just institutionalized but industrialized, crises are market opportunities for the New Class, and thus cannot be ignored.

Still, one irony is that terrorism by definition is violence deployed for political ends. And our immediate response to terrorism is almost entirely political. What offends me isn’t the political response — though some political responses are repugnant, as I write in my column today. What I’m getting at is the ugliness of the immediacy. Good manners and basic decency often boil down to timing. If you owe me money, I will probably ask you for it — but not at your wife’s funeral.  

Manufacturing Meaning

New events are like lumps of wet clay. After an election, a calamity, an assassination, mass murder, or a wardrobe malfunction, the meaning of the event is moldable for only a brief time. Soon it hardens into a kind of totem, a patron saint of a particular narrative.

For instance, a Communist killed JFK. But that fact was unacceptable, even unthinkable. So elite liberal institutions, with only a modicum of centralized guidance, mounted a crowd-sourced effort to mold the event into a totem of a more usable narrative: Kennedy was killed by “hate” — specifically, right-wing hate. It wasn’t true. It was literally a lie. But the clay hardened and for the next half-century our culture has been genuflecting to a false idol.

Right now the media and the Democratic party are working very, very, hard to pound the wet clay of San Bernardino into a story about runaway gun violence in America. Bogus stats about there being a mass shooting on average once a day streak across the media firmament like so much St. Elmo’s Fire. The fact that gun violence has been in a decades-long decline doesn’t count for much. Poor Charlie Cooke is running around like the last artillery officer on a 19th-century British warship, trying to return fire from each cannon station.

Jihad Me at Hello

I myself am not quite the Second Amendment absolutist Charlie and others around here are, though by the standards of the New York Times or Daily News, I count as an unreconstructed gun nut (and I agree with Jim Geraghty that these mass murders make wanting a gun of your own more logical). Nonetheless, it just seems to me that the murderers’ being jihadist terrorists is the more important fact. Frankly, I don’t give a rat’s ass about California’s gun-control laws — the state has even stricter pipe-bomb-control laws, and Mr. and Mrs. Farook flouted those, too. Oh, and the laws against first-degree murder? They showed flagrant disregard for them.

EDITORIAL: Terrorism in San Bernardino

I should say that I think the “hybrid” attack theory is still plausible to me. I suspect that the original target wasn’t the Christmas party. My hunch is that Syed Farook went to the party and Bob from accounting stole his stapler or told him the ice-cream cake wasn’t halal and, in a rage, Farouk called an audible. He ran home, told his mail-order jihadist bride, “It’s go-time!” After a brief detour to drop their baby girl off at grandma’s and inscribe themselves in the Book of Worst Parents Ever, they went and murdered a bunch of innocent people. The willing suspension of reason about this is just amazing. If this was simply about workplace violence, not only would there not be the thousands of rounds of ammo and the pipe bombs, it’s also very unlikely that Mrs. Farouk would agree to join in the murder.

If it all weren’t so sad and dangerous, it would be funny to watch folks on CNN and elsewhere try to elevate the importance of the workplace-violence angle or suggest that somehow Farook was offended by a Christmas party. Here’s the thing: If you decide to kill your co-workers — who threw you and your wife a baby shower! — because you suddenly take offense at Christmas parties, you are still the bad guy. Oh, and blaming this on post-partum depression isn’t as dumb as blaming a missing flight on a black hole, but that’s a pretty low bar. 

#related#The search to find some mitigating “rationale” (to borrow a term from John Kerry) for the attack is a perfect example of how the media desperately wants to find a way to blame Americans or Christians or just simply change the subject. (And don’t even get me started on this idiocy.)

It’s a micro-version of the White House’s blame-the-video response to Benghazi. The blame cannot ever lie with jihadists, we must have provoked the attack somehow. It’s like half the country needs to be sat down and just told over and over again: “It’s not your fault.

Yeah, yeah, sure, workplace violence can be a real problem. But if the hybrid theory is correct, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that they were preparing to kill a bunch of other innocent people. Things could have been going great at the office and we’d still be talking about a jihadist attack. Maybe not today, maybe not in San Bernardino, but somewhere and soon.

But workplace violence, gun control, and of course, the inevitable “anti-Muslim backlash” are the stories we will hear so much about, if only because when some facts are too terrible to contemplate, some people will inevitably contemplate something else.

#share#

Various & Sundry

My apologies for the somewhat disjointed and low-energy “news”letter today. Writing on planes is always a hit-or-miss proposition and, given my distaste for the subject matter, I’m not sure it worked. But it does have the virtue of being done, which means Jack Fowler will release his hostage.

Dingo & the Lady: Not too much to report this week on the beasts. The major development is that the Dingo is now permitting the Lady to sleep on the human beds alongside her. While it’s a nice sign they’re getting ever closer, this is not really very good news because despite being so much more dignified-looking than the Carolina swamp dog, Pippa tends to be wetter and dirtier than Zoë. She comes back from walks with an undercarriage not unlike a wet mop that’s been dragged through field. We didn’t have to keep her off the furniture before — Zoë did that for us. Now that responsibility belongs to us.

All Star No More? Some of you have been asking why I haven’t been on Special Report very much of late. There are two reasons: First, they’ve been expanding the bullpen for the panel and that means fewer appearances for yours truly, alas. Second, I’ve been bumped twice in a row now because of breaking news about terrorist attacks, first in Paris and then in San Bernardino. That’s totally understandable, of course. As of now my next appearance will be on . . . Christmas Day! (I volunteered because my human womenfolk will be leaving for a family get-together in Hawaii while I stay behind with canine womenfolk. So I figured why not?)

Speaking of Christmas: Have you bought The Christmas Virtues yet?(The No. 1 new release in the Holidays category at Amazon!). This is the third in the Virtues Trilogy edited by Jonathan Last. Once again, I’m a contributor, helping bring the regression to the mean of literary quality in the volume. And, if you’re in D.C. next week, you might want to swing by the panel discussion I’ll be moderating at AEI (Jonathan handed me the gavel this year). They tend to be a blast.

Speaking of AEI, they’ve just rolled out a pretty cool iPad app where you can find a lot of stuff and the vastly more impressive work of my colleagues. Check it out – if you dare!

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