Jared Lee Loughner was disturbed, perhaps even insane.
In spite of the evidence that he planned his assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords, the right-wingers are quickly pointing to his mental problems as a way to absolve themselves of any responsibility for their violent rhetoric. Many of them gleefully point to Loughner's listing of the Communist Manifesto among his favorite books as evidence that it was the influence of "liberal ideology" that led to the shooting. Conveniently forgotten are the mentions of Ayn Rand works in that same list.
Equally troubling is that "they do it too" (see comments at link) defense of violent rhetoric, that the right is currently using to defend their behavior over the last two years and more. Sorry, that doesn't work for my 8 & 9 year old sons, why should we tolerate it when the character of the country is at issue?
The fact is that organizations like FOX News and people like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have made their bread and butter on the outrage of people who feel victimized by a changing world. Of course, victimization is not as empowering as anger, and anger must be directed at those who have broken the rules of a rigidly structured world. Those rule-breakers are easily seen as other and usually lesser - the recent immigrants who don't deserve the bounty of this country, even though it has previously been available to all comers; the unemployed who are certainly shiftless and lazy; union employees who must be cheating because they are afforded slightly more protections in the workplace; the mentally ill who were never brought up right; the dark-skinned guy who dared to be President.
Rarely are those on the higher socioeconomic rungs called out as rule-breakers (unless they express empathy for the aforementioned others, then somehow they're "elite"). The rich must have followed the rules to get where they are, otherwise, what good would the rules be? Right?
Part of the reason I largely stopped writing about politics is that it is hard for the voices of moderation to be heard over the vitriolic mob. It's exhausting to try to debate those who would consistently misuse, misunderstand, or deliberately abuse language. And then, there is the troubling trend I've noticed among right-wingers to deny, even in the face of recorded or transcripted evidence, that they said something or admit any culpability for how their words are most commonly interpreted.
In the "lone gunman" world of conservatives, individuals alone are responsible for their actions, regardless of society or circumstance. That allows the right-wing extremists to say what they want, regardless of message, decimate mental health services and blame parents, ignore the ravages of poverty and blame teachers, cut indiscriminately and call it reform, address concerns about gun violence with more guns, lead a life or a business without conscience and call it success.
Certainly part of the psychology of this game is to intimidate or exhaust anyone to the left of Charles Krauthammer into silence. In the Bush era, it was enough to call into question the patriotism of the Democrats. In the brave new world of Glenn Beck and the Tea Party, the opposition must be dehumanized as well. Dehumanizing the enemy makes them easier to kill, and there is no more effective silence than death.
If people making money off the peddling of hate (and I'd include Sarah Palin among them) refuse to elevate the debate for the sake of their country, perhaps those actually in office might do well to remember that all this ugliness did not win Palin the Vice Presidency, it did not serve Newt Gingrich in his quest for a 50-year GOP majority, it will not solve the problems facing this country, and it will not make you look like the sane alternative.
Anger may be great for ratings, and maybe even fundraising; but it is not a governing strategy or a problem solving tool. It is not a service to our country nor is it reflective of the kind of world most of us want our kids to grow up in. Anger may feel empowering, and there are times when it is justified, but we must no longer allow anger and violence to be a stand-in for leadership. We must counter the screaming about rights with demands of responsibility.
"The safety of the world depends on your saying 'no' to inhumane ideas. Standing up for one's own integrity makes you no friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know." Gabrielle Giffords, May 2009