Sunday, January 09, 2011

Thoughts about Gabrielle Giffords

I wrote a post last night about the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The post expressed a great deal of anger and pointed to the use of violent imagery in the last election as possibly providing a motivation for the person who did the shooting. Upon further thought, I don't feel comfortable leaving the post up, because there isn't enough evidence at this point to say for certain that the shooter's motivation was political. I still decry the violent political language used in the last election, and the attacks upon candidates (for example, Giffords' campaign office was vandalized), but at this point a direct connection with the actions of the shooter has not been proven. If evidence comes forth that is more definite, then I'll return to this topic.

I'm still very disturbed, of course, by the attack yesterday. Six people were killed, including a federal judge and a nine-year old girl, and twelve others were injured. If Giffords hadn't been the target of the attack (and if a federal judge hadn't been killed), then this attack would probably have mostly been noticed by people in Arizona and those close to the victims, and by the rest of us as one of the many mass shootings that have occurred in the United States. In that case, the main question I would take from the killing would be - why is it so easy for people to get guns in this country? The Supreme Court may have decided that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, so it is constitutional - but is it wise? Doesn't the easy availability of guns make both mass killings like this one and attacks with fewer victims so much easier to commit?

The other thing I was thinking about this morning was the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968, during the middle of the 1968 presidential election. He was killed on June 5 by Sirhan Sirhan. For anyone who was alive at the time, the political context is clear. I was twelve years old, and I remember the very unsettled political atmosphere, continuing threats of violence (earlier in the year Martin Luther King had been assassinated, and after his death there were riots across the country), and mass protests against the Vietnam War. But it wasn't Kennedy's stance on Vietnam that provided the motivation for the man who killed him. During Sirhan's trial he talked about Kennedy's support for Israel - Kennedy had promised, if he were elected, to support selling U.S. fighter jets to Israel. Sirhan was a Christian Palestinian - his family was from Musrara, in Jerusalem, and after the 1948 war moved to the Jordanian part of Jerusalem. The family emigrated to the U.S. a few years before the assassination. While Sirhan may also have been mentally ill, there also seems to have a political motivation - but not one that related to Vietnam or the Civil Rights movement, which were certainly the most salient political issues in the U.S. at that time. But Kennedy's death certainly had an effect upon subsequent American politics - at the time of his assassination, he was second behind Hubert Humphrey in the number of delegates to the upcoming Democratic Convention. His death meant that it was far easier for Humphrey to gain the nomination. And who knows, if he had been nominated, he might have been a much stronger candidate against Richard Nixon than Humphrey was. Kennedy's death came to be understood in the context of the unsettled atmosphere of the U.S. in 1968 and the conflict over the Vietnam War, not in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Some interesting articles:

David Kurtz from TPM:
What people on the Hill have trouble understanding is, why now?
Beginning in August 2009, when the tea party movement began disrupting congressional town halls in districts across the country, Democratic Members suddenly faced a general vitriol -- but also a series of specific violent threats -- that none of them had encountered before. Despite Republican claims that Democrats were milking the threats and exaggerating them for political gain, the threats were deeply troubling to Democrats privately. They were forced to rethink holding town halls and to recalibrate the risks associated with being a public official.

But things had calmed down for the most part since the passage of health care in the first part of 2010. As the 2010 midterm campaigns heated up, the political tenor grew sharply more volatile again, although not to the extent it had been (unless, perhaps, you were Muslim). If an attack on a Member, especially a Democratic Member, had happened during the heat of the health care reform debate or the run up to the elections, no one would have been shocked. But the heat of the moment seemed to have dissipated.
Steve Benen from Washington Monthly:
Which leads us to the second point. The shooter may have been politically motivated, in the sense that the assailant targeted a political figure, but Giffords probably wasn't shot because her attacker disapproved of the individual mandate in the new health care law. Loughner appears to be "conservative" only in a loose sense -- he hates abortion rights, is paranoid about government power, and obsesses over states' rights -- but given his madness, he doesn't necessarily fall along the traditional left-right spectrum. The truly crazy rarely do.

But my fear is the latter observation will somehow mitigate the former. We may come to a point fairly soon at which the investigation of yesterday's massacre is complete, and we learn that the shooting was "just" the result of psychotic madman. "Oh," some might say, "then the political climate is irrelevant; violent rhetoric in the mainstream is inconsequential; and everything's fine."

No matter what the outcome of the Tucson investigation, everything isn't fine.
Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend gives a list of all those who were killed yesterday, as well as photo of the other man who is suspected of somehow being involved in the attack.


  1. Correction, not killing but trying to kill

  2. My supposition, which you deleted, was that his interest in Hitler's writings might have some significance may, if reports pan out, have been a good guess. Which is to say, this may have been about Representative Giffords being Jewish. Again, though, this is all just guess work.

    My problem with what you wrote last night is that your comment showed you want to see a connection. If the man had proclaimed, while shooting, that he opposed the ZOG, then we would have good basis to form a pretty good theory. If he had said, I hate Democrats, we would know something on which to form a pretty good theory. However, in this case, we have only the fact that he is accused of killing a Democrat and a fairly non-leftist Democrat at that, which is a very different thing, a fact which raises red flags, flags very different than, say, what we had with the Fort Hood killer and the unsuccessful Times Square bomber, among others.

  3. You need to contact your blog host. Your posting page malfunctions and eats post after post after post. I know you are not doing it.

  4. N - I'll withhold judgment until we know more. But one thing to note about his list of books is how broad it was - he listed both Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. When I read the list, it didn't seem so strange for a young person to include such a wide range of books, even ones which were complete opposites politically.

    Sorry about the eating of posts. I don't think there's anything I can do about it. I'll take a look at the Blogger blog to see if others are having the same problem.

  5. I agree that all of us should withhold judgment here. Our country has enough problems without turning what may be the work of a nut case into a partisan charge. Watching our side of the political ledger act as if we were dealing with a tea party enthusiast to gain political points is, to me, disgusting. The left really needs to do as much, if not more, soul searching than the right because the left has become completely unhinged from reality.

  6. It is at least worth considering whether violent imagery helps to create an environment that encourages assassins.

    It is also worth considering whether potential assassins make up a viable political constituency, and whether mainstream political parties value having a relationship with them.