What is Sarah Palin’s responsibility? (Tuscon, Arizona massacre)

Sarah has been taking her share of hits in the blogosphere, because of her connection to the disreputable Tea Party and because of one of her political artworks from last year showing a map with 20 target crosshairs, one each for Congress members she felt should be gotten rid of. (Most obviously, she meant voted out, but the method by which she decided to communicate it, the style of message, is most unfortunate at this point.)

I don’t think Sarah Palin is responsible for what happened yesterday in Arizona. But the reason so many people are pointing fingers at her in the liberal blogosphere is that she’s been quite a provocateur of people who employ that sort of threaten-with-guns demeanor when they aren’t getting their way about an issue. (I had some critic do this to me in 2006, and it’s something that isn’t really uncommon in America. The game anymore seems to be how creatively to deliver the threat.)

I think that the people who, in the past 36 hours, are emphasizing that all the “time to water the tree of Liberty” and the “Second Amendment remedies” talk (that’s been going on since the Republicans lost the White House in 2008) has an effect on the overall polity of this country, are making a good point. People start talking this stuff, and in a way, in a strong way, it puts it out there that somehow these sore loser’s fantasies might in some way be acceptable behavior.

You are never going to legislate away bad speech. But it pays to call it out for what it is, and to discuss the ramifications, which the Republicans and the Tea Party, especially, seem to be tripping over each other running away from.

You make “jokes” or “clever artwork” about shooting government officials, then some poor Congresswoman gets a bullet through her brain. Plus a federal judge, three elderly constituents and a 9-year-old girl.

Someone on Slate made a good point that this sort of visceral speech has always been a part of American culture in one form or another, and that the country has a relatively good reputation for avoiding the kind of political violence that say, a France or a Germany has experienced in the past couple centuries. But assassinations are the kind of thing where you try to go for a zero record. Right now, there is a lady in Arizona who was elected to Congress who is in an induced coma, with her skull removed and frozen. And six other people who met worse fates. It’s hard to think that somehow this is the price we pay for vigorous political debate. (“We” aren’t paying it, even.)

The right-wingers are playing up the allegation that the gunman Loughner is some kind of deranged crazy guy. But that’s bunk. People with mental illness–if that is even a factor in this incident—are no more likely to be violent people than anyone in the general population. It’s been studied. (And to be fair, nor are they more susceptible to suggestions from the political world to go out and do harm to specific targets.) I still think it avoids the issue that, even if Lougher was a deranged crazy guy, and among the group of deranged crazy guys that go off and do those things that “we all know” deranged crazy guys are capable of, he got a gun.

I think what we are also going to find out is that this deranged crazy guy has been taking in the political comment culture of the past couple years, as telegraphed by the Sarah Palins and Tea Parties. There’s going to be an eery silence when that evidence comes to the fore.