After House majority whip Steve Scalise and four others (and I wish I knew their names, so I could post them here) were shot in Alexandria, Va., reactions from most of the press and political world were cautious, decent, and professional. This is heartening, and we can hope it signals a new and better standard for covering these types of tragic situations.
The bipartisan Congressional Baseball Game raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities every year. It’s one of the rare nice things that happens in Washington, D.C. And it’s worth remembering that in America, softball and charity work are ubiquitous, while political violence is virtually nonexistent. Certainly, any reading of history illustrates that Americans are far less disposed to turn to political violence than most — and the incidents that do occur are most often perpetrated by those who act alone or are part of a fringe movement that is widely shunned by most citizens.
But I’m sure many Republicans imagine what this event would look like had the parties been reversed. We would undoubtedly be thrust into another vacuous national conversation like the one we had during the 2009–10 Obamacare debates, when every false and exaggerated claim about tea-party violence induced a thousand wringing hands on cable TV grappling over the supposed fascistic tendencies and ugly underbelly of conservatism. It was the same after the Oklahoma City bombing, when President Bill Clinton blamed talk radio. Moreover, we would almost surely see the crime used as a cudgel to deter speech.
After then-representative Gabby Giffords was shot by Jared Lee Loughner in 2011, there was not a single shred of evidence linking his actions to political rhetoric or political positions. Yet much of the question-begging and amateur psychoanalyzing was used to lay culpability at the feet of such people as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and other tea-party leaders. Andrew Sullivan wrote that Palin’s “recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged.” The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote a piece headlined “Climate of Hate,” in which he tenuously cobbled together some bad jokes to claim that a rising tide of violence would soon manifest because of Republican positions. He said: “It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric?”
We need a standard. And we need to stick to it.
After all, judging from Hodgkinson’s feeds, he seemed to believe that anyone who supported free-market-oriented-health care bills was complicit in murdering the poor — he was aping many of Sanders’s over-the-top comments. He believed anyone who wanted to defund abortion mills was just trying to enslave women. He believed that people who wanted to get out of an international treaty on fossil fuels wanted to destroy the planet. He was mimicking not the rhetoric of the fringe, but the rhetoric of the Center-Left, which is hyperbolic, mostly stupid, and often a way to dehumanize opponents. But, as it goes, it’s not something new.
Just as those who blame President Donald Trump for every random act of violence, including a Montana Republican congressman-elect’s body-slamming of a journalist, those who blame Bernie Sanders are just finding a way to use tragedy for partisanship. Now, obviously, every incident varies to some extent. We can call out rhetoric; some politicians say things that deserve rebuke. We can debate the politics of guns. But we need a standard. And we need to stick to it. We can’t blame heated political rhetoric for some violence, and then pretend it has nothing to do with violence at other times.
— David Harsanyi is a senior editor of the Federalist and the author of The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter @davidharsanyi. © 2017 Creators.com