Let’s Take the Politics of the Giffords Shooting Slowly

The shooting of Representative Giffords is tragic and undeniably political. Still, we need to be cautious about accusations and speculation.

Let me start by saying that I am deeply saddened by today’s events and that the main issue at the moment is the wellbeing of the victims of today’s shooting.

Having said that, it strikes me as requisite to note that today’s event is inescapably a political one as, at a minimum, a member of the US House of Reprentatives was shot today. That means that we have had what can only be called an attempted assassination of a member of the US government. Further, the shooting took place during an overtly political event.

While acknowledging these facts, I wish to state that we all need to be cautious about making specific political assertions or using the event to make political arguments or to make cheap political points. At a minimum, it seems wise to wait and see who the shooter is and what may have motivated him before making any arguments. It is foolish to assume that we know anything at this point. And, really, as lives hang in the balance, and with some families permanently altered, it is only respectful that we wait before making accusations about the situation.

I have already seen Tweets about Sarah Palin, Sharron Angle and the Tea Party and potential linkages, in terms of rhetoric, to the shooting. Not only is this not the time, such linkages are pure speculation at the moment (not to mention the fairness of such connections are dubious). Further, what if the shooter had some other political persuasion or had some other type of motive? Would-be assassins are not always ideologues. Remember: John Hinckley, Jr. tried to kill President Reagan in a mis-guided attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster.

Having said all of this, there is little doubt in my mind that this situation will lead to some national soul-searching about contemporary political rhetoric, which has been heated of late, to say the least Even the live coverage on Fox News is bringing up the heated town hall meetings during the last electoral cycle and the anger that helped animate the Tea Party.

Still, I would caution people against making sweeping statements or making claims about specific politicians.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. HelloWorld says:

    Sure, after liberals have been warning about the gun scopes on Sarah Palins web-site, Michelle Bokmans statements about how Thomas Jefferson said that there needed to be a cleansing every now and then, and Sharon Angle’s 2nd amendment fixes…and Glenn Beck, Rush, etc.

    Sure, now is the time to take the politics out of it.

  2. Did you read the post?

  3. HelloWorld says:

    Yes, and I think the event points out why people should be condemned for what they encourage before a tragedy occurs. This guy may have been randomly chosing a location but since no one on the right ever came out against all the crazies they need to be criticized for it.

  4. I ultimately agree that there has been rhetoric worthy of criticizing. I have specifically criticized Angle for her “second amendment remedies” statement.

    All I am saying is that the tragic nature of the situation and the current lack of solid information means that it behooves us to take the politics slowly.

  5. Jay Tea says:

    Such as, say, the Kos diarist with a history of gun violence who just a couple of days ago said Giffords was dead to him?

    Radical though, Hello: why not let a few facts develop BEFORE you start stringing up nooses?

    J.

  6. HelloWorld says:

    Jay Tea, because it doesn’t matter. When influential people incite fear and craziness, regardless of the why this event occured – they put themselves into a position to be used as examples for why they shouldn’t have said what they’ve said in the first place. It provides and opportunity to call them out. People might actually say “hhmmm….maybe we should stop listening to these nuts”

  7. john personna says:

    I’m fine with “take your time” Steven, but I’m worried that some are trying to put the “gun sights” off limits too soon.

    It would be perverse, actually, if this was-or-was-not a political act, and because of that we could not talk about violent imagery in politics.

  8. john personna says:

    Put another way, if this was-or-was-not a political act, we can say gun-imagery in politics is a bad idea.

  9. ponce says:

    Regardless of the “reason” behind this shooting it’s not a data point that supports less strict gun laws.

  10. @JP:

    I don’t think any of this is off limits, I just think that we need to at least get basic facts out before drawing conclusions.

  11. anjin-san says:

    > I ultimately agree that there has been rhetoric worthy of criticizing. I have specifically criticized Angle for her “second amendment remedies” statement.

    Steven – I think you are right, we need to take a deep breath and we need to know all the facts. That being said, the undercurrent of violence or implied violence in right wing politics is something that needs to be looked at. Today many not be the day to do it, but tomorrow probably is a good time to start.

  12. Jay Tea says:

    john, it wouldn’t take me very long to come up with some rather violent rhetoric from President Obama, such as “get in their faces” and “hit them back twice as hard” or “I’m the guy between you and the people with pitchforks.”

    It’s looking more and more like the guy was a psycho, not a political extremist… which blows to hell my theory of Mexican drug cartels. You have government people getting shot up with automatic weapons that close to the border, it’s a natural assumption.

    J.

  13. Pug says:

    Well, I guess there are a couple of ways to look at this tragic shooting.

    One, it might be politically motivated, and was influenced by our currently overheated political rhetoric. If that is the case, the Sarah Palins and Sharron Angles will deserve all the criticisim they are certainly going to hear.

    Two, we can all hope it’s just another normal day in America and a random nut showed up somewhere and gunned down about a dozen people and, by circumstance, one was a US Congresswoman.

    I’m not sure which is a sadder statement about our country.

  14. HelloWorld says:

    Its obvious this guy is nuts. His YouTube page is full of political junk ranging from constitutional libraterian to left wing communist jargon. He is not a tea partier, either. This is going to pan out as just a crazy guy doing something for attention, but still I think the comment that sums it up best is that gun imagery in politics is a bad idea.

  15. john personna says:

    Steven, I’m keeping things separate. We don’t know what kind of nutter this was. (I don’t think I’m going out on the limb saying it was some kind of nutter.) At the same time I’m saying this shouldn’t be a reason to “go quiet” on violent rhetoric.

    Jay, keep looking.

    (Jared Laughner’s youtube page looks like a class-project page, and so perhaps skewed for grades.)

  16. Pug says:

    …it wouldn’t take me very long to come up with some rather violent rhetoric from President Obama, such as “get in their faces”.

    Please. That’s weak.

  17. mantis says:

    Please. That’s weak.

    Jay’s been pushing that nonsense for months. It’s pathetic.

  18. HelloWorld says:

    According to his last post he sounds like a Glenn Beck crazy who believe all our laws are unconstitutional and that we should be on the gold standard…

  19. At the same time I’m saying this shouldn’t be a reason to “go quiet” on violent rhetoric

    Just to be clear for my own part, I have no problem discussing (or condemning) violent rhetoric.

  20. Jay Tea says:

    Jay’s been pushing that nonsense for months. It’s pathetic.

    Yet, mantis, when I parroted Obama’s words, you utterly wigged out and stormed out of Wizbang.

    I’m going to fall back on something I’ve said before, and should have said sooner: crazy people do crazy things for crazy reasons. And self-censoring to avoid giving the crazies their excuse is futile; they’ll find something to set themselves off.

    J.

  21. mantis says:

    Your repeated implied support for violent uprising is what made me to finally cease visiting your swamp. Interesting that you would want to get back into that today.

    And self-censoring to avoid giving the crazies their excuse is futile; they’ll find something to set themselves off.

    Indeed. No need to self-censor your violent rhetoric, folks, because crazy people do crazy things. Don’t retreat, reload!

  22. steve says:

    Speculating with incomplete information is dumb. Let things sort out. Surviving a through and through from the side, if reports are correct, is pretty remarkable. She is not out of the woods yet. Let’s not forget all of the others.

    Steve

  23. sam says:

    @ Jay

    “it wouldn’t take me very long to come up with some rather violent rhetoric from President Obama, such as “get in their faces” and “hit them back twice as hard” or “I’m the guy between you and the people with pitchforks.” ”

    Ah. c’mon Jay, you’re smarter than this. Those are garden-variety, rhetorical expressions that only a complete fool would take as advocating physical violence against someone.

  24. Ronin says:

    Here’s one of the shooter’s YouTube quotes:

    “In conclusion, reading the second United States Constitution, I can’t trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” he writes in one video posting. “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! ”

    If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck….

    So time’s up! We can officially talk about the politics now. As we all suspected, he a right winger Tea Party whack job.

  25. sam says:

    “So time’s up! We can officially talk about the politics now. As we all suspected, he a right winger Tea Party whack job.”

    Dude, dude. If anything, unless that was some lame attempt at sarcasm, the guy’s website ravings evidence a mental condition unanchored to any particular political allegiance.

  26. john personna says:

    He was a nutter who picked up a political framework that was current. If this was the 60’s maybe he’d try to hijack a plane to Cuba.

    FWIW, I like what Patrick Beck, president of the Mohave County Tea Party said:

    Beck thought on this. “I’ve definitely been in Tea Party events where people have signs or shouted inappropriate things,” he said. “What can we do to stop that? Not a lot. All we can do is be real clear about what we mean, but it makes it real difficult to speak when every few minutes you’re giving a disclaimer. ‘We have to fight back — but, wait, I don’t mean literally fight.’ Those words such as fight, and take back, and restore… we know what we mean but we have to be clear what we mean, and in next few weeks, as this all plays out, people will be more understanding of that.”

    There’s no need to give the nutters a framework.

  27. Ronin says:

    Nope.

    There’s actually clear evidence that he has a mental condition AND clear evidence that he is firmly anchored to the right wing and Tea Party.

    The only thing you can wonder about is if the Tea Party attracts whack jobs, creates them, or both.

    Sorry “dude.”

  28. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Mantis why ever you left someplace improved that which you left and damaged that which you visit. You are nothing more than a mindless shill for the left and attack when you cannot argue. Somewhat like I do. Your problem is there is no reasoning with you as you are not capable of reason. When you disagree, like you did at Wizbang, in an adult manner, you took your ball and left. I suspect you are about 14 years old if not chronologically, mentally.

  29. Jay Tea says:

    There’s actually clear evidence that he has a mental condition AND clear evidence that he is firmly anchored to the right wing and Tea Party.

    His single favorited video was of a US flag burning. Among his favorite books are Mein Kampf and The Communist Manifesto.

    Real hefty Tea Party cred there, chump.

    He is a nut. He latched on to whatever elements he could use to support his nuttery.

    I bet you were at the head of the “send the body to Glenn Beck” crowd when that census worker turned up dead, too…

    J.

  30. Ronin says:

    Jay Tea,

    Here’s just one of the shooter’s YouTube quotes:

    “In conclusion, reading the second United States Constitution, I can’t trust the current government because of the ratifications: the government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar,” he writes in one video posting. “No! I won’t pay debt with a currency that’s not backed by gold and silver! ”

    That’s plenty of evidence. Right out of the extreme Tea Party playbook. So sorry you and your ilk have been exposed once again.

    What’s great is that Giffords survived and the Tea Party failed — again. So although the Tea Baggers are clearly crazy and violent we can thank God they are also incompetent.

  31. CR says:

    May I say, yours is the first posting on any blog I have read that introduces any sort of sanity into the discussion of this event. Thank you!

    I am completely sickened by the immediate reaction of, it seems, almost everyone except the victims’ families and friends, who have jumped on the red state/blue state, liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, Palin/Obama bandwagons to try to make some sort of talking point.

    People have been killed, others are fighting for their lives and all most seem to want to talk about is the political angle. Well, guess what…there might not be one (other than some who were killed/wounded were in public service). Yet, everyone wants to man the barricades!

    It’s pathetic.

    Thank you for trying to bring some sort of rationality to the discussion.

  32. Ronin says:

    ” it seems, almost everyone except the victims’ families and friends, who have jumped on the red state/blue state, liberal/conservative, Republican/Democrat, Palin/Obama bandwagons to try to make some sort of talking point.”

    Really CR? Then why was Giffords’ own father among the first to implicate the Tea Party. Check for the quote yourself.

    And it’s not a talking point. It’s just a fact and something the country needs to confront. We are all (most of us anyway) are angered and saddened by this event and feel for those who are suffering.

    But that doesn’t mean that we can’t at the same time look for answers. And the obvious one has shown itself to be true.

    Face the facts: the shooter(s) is a right wing Tea Party whack job.

  33. Herb says:

    “most seem to want to talk about is the political angle. Well, guess what…there might not be one”

    Hmm, it appears that while the shooter was motivated by his own mental illness, the political angle is somewhat….obvious, innit? That’s not to say he’s a Tea Partier or a right-wing gun nut, but come on…..crazy person shoots Federal judge and a Dem Congresswoman in Arizona.

    If you’re surprised the “speculation” has gone the way it has, you haven’t been paying attention.

  34. Brummagem Joe says:

    Haven’t visited this burgh for a long while basically because ultimately it became rather tedious but I thought today’s horrific events would be the source of a lot of comment. Steven is of course right that this is a deeply political event when someone attempts to assassinate a US congressman and succeeds with a federal judge. He’s also right that we need to avoid jumping to conclusions about this guy but there’s no conclusion jumping involved when it comes to the violent rhetoric that’s out there. And it’s really just the tip of the iceberg because the stuff on some of these blogs is literally unbelieveable. I’ve no doubt it’s all going to come out because with investigation, trial, etc etc it’s going to be playing out for months, and many of the issues touched on by posters above are going to get a lot of visibility. Hopefully it’s going to act as a wake up call for the nutcases, the inciters, and those politicians who look the other way.

  35. @CR: Thanks.

    @Ronin: Given that his daughter was shot in the head, I am going to give him a pass on whatever he says at the moment.

    @Michael: FWIW, Shep Smith made a pretty big deal about the 9 year-old on multiple occasions this afternoon on FNC.

  36. Ronin says:

    Steven L. Taylor,

    This isn’t twitter. You don’t need to use the @ before people’s usernames.

    And who are you to give a man who’s daughter was shot a pass? Who says he even need’s one? What he said was true whether he was emotional or not. Just the facts.

  37. @Ronin,

    No, it’s not Twitter, it’s a blog–more specifically a blog comment section where it is sometimes difficult to keep track of who is responding to whom. As such, a convention has developed using the @ symbol. As you may have noticed in my comment, I was responding to three people. my actions made it possible for each person to know that I was responding to them specifically.

    One would suspect that this really isn’t hat hard to figure out. Indeed, I am not sure why you felt the need to ake a snide remark about it.

    And who doesn’t give a man whose daughter was just shot in the head a pass?

  38. Bober40 says:

    Sounds like you guys are all lefty NUT JOBS brainwashed by the LIBERALS.
    WAKE UP LESS GOVERNMENT INVOLVMENT IN ALL OF OUR LIVES IS WHAT WE ALL NEED… GOLD STANDARDS SHOULD PREVAIL.
    I SAY NO MORE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Blame the real perp… he did this on his own not becasue of the TEA PARTY…
    Why do liberals have a mental disorder?
    Should we blame the liberals NO!

  39. Axel Edgren says:

    Basically, one side has been more prone than the other to target their opponents as alien, un-American, conspiratorial, shifty, manchurian, fascistoid, Muslim, communist and generally historical threats – there is no left-wing Inhofe, Bachmann, Palin, Beck or Limbaugh that enjoys the same amount of deference and legitimacy.

    This man would have shot SOMEBODY, but there is no denying that one side has been a lot more intent on depicting the other as EVERYTHING that is wrong with the US. From ACA to Cap and Trade, republicans depict democrats as alien, perverted, un-American and dangerous to the nation. Job-killers, fascists, constitution-defilers and unpatriotic.

  40. For the Left, it’s so often all about doing everything possible to silence opposing opinion. So far the reaction to this tragedy is right on track in that regard. I’ve got a new post tracking violent Leftist rhetoric back through some earlier controversies on my blog, http://www.granitesentry.com. Love to hear everybody’s view.