[It] won’t do to dig up stray comments by Obama, Allen Grayson, or any other Democrat who used metaphors of combat over the past few years, and then try to claim some balance of responsibility in the implied violence of current American politics. (Most of the Obama quotes that appear in the comments were lame attempts to reassure his base that he can get mad and fight back, i.e., signs that he’s practically incapable of personal aggression in politics.) In fact, there is no balance—none whatsoever. Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not-so-coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side’s activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings. Only one side has a popular national TV host who uses his platform to indoctrinate viewers in the conviction that the President is an alien, totalitarian menace to the country. Only one side fills the AM waves with rage and incendiary falsehoods. Only one side has an iconic leader, with a devoted grassroots following, who can’t stop using violent imagery and dividing her countrymen into us and them, real and fake. Any sentient American knows which side that is; to argue otherwise is disingenuous.
Both Kevin Drum and Andrew Sullivan highlight the above comment while refusing to let go – to my mind correctly – of the political-cultural wedge issue that the Tucson atrocity has handed the opponents of “Tea Party America,” but their position is still relatively easy for people like Ed Morrissey and Allahpundit and on and on to hack and hack and hack against, or people like David Brooks to seek to set aside.
No doubt many on the Right are heartened today to learn that holding inflammatory rhetoric “responsible” for lunatic violence is still a minority position, but they are missing the point in the same way that Sullivan, Drum, and Packer are. “Culpability” is a straw man: The shooter could have been wearing a Palin T-Shirt, listening to Limbaugh on an IPod, and waving a Tea Party Gadsden flag, and none of that would make Palin, Limbaugh, or the Tea Party legally or, in most people’s minds anyway, morally accountable. The real problem for the Right – especially those who compulsively pander to and exploit a reactionary gun fetishist/militia sensibility – is that events like this one remind everyone else of what kind of culture they absolutely do not want to affirm.
On a political-cultural level that has nothing directly to do with the event itself, the reaction to the event, the sheer cultural fact of it, illustrates once again how everything that worked for the far right in 2009-10 is now, please excuse the metaphor, as likely to backfire on them. Everything that seemed cleverly provocative up to a few months ago now qualifies as unsuitable for human consumption. Sure, the Palinish right and even further extremes can keep on talking about the Kenyan socialist Islamists seeking to impose a death panel tyranny on Real America. It’s a free country, still, more or less. And the majority in that free country, listening to such rhetoric or viewing its typical imagery, have every right to feel even more like throwing up today than they did last Friday. That’s what Palin and Limbaugh, Beck and Levin, Morrissey and the rest of the HotAir gang have to deal with – and can’t.