Ernest Istook was a GOP representative from Oklahoma for 14 years, now a fellow at the Heritage Foundation
"He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn't listen to political radio. He didn't take sides. He wasn't on the left. He wasn't on the right." That's how Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner's best friend described him on ABC's Good Morning America.
But such facts rarely get in the way when pundits and politicians want to push their ideological agenda.
CBS News reported that most Americans (57 percent) see no connection between the shooting and our political tone. Once again, the general public proves far wiser than the elite commentariat. The attack on Representative Giffords and others was horrid. So is the effort to squeeze events into conformity with reigning fables of political correctness, such as the idea that conservatives and small government advocates are dangerous. [Take the poll: Is Political Rhetoric To Blame for Arizona Shooting?]
Feigned outrage has gotten out of hand, feeding mutual dependency between the professionally indignant and the complicit media. But violence comes in all shapes and sizes: the government-hating Tim McVeigh; the environmental extremist Unabomber Ted Kaczynski; Fort Hood's accused Islamic shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan; left-wingers who rioted and rampaged in Seattle in 1999; committed terrorists like those of al Qaeda.
I witnessed what McVeigh's bombing did to us in Oklahoma City—and the efforts to score political points from it. As a congressman, I was threatened with death and dismemberment if I didn't support legalizing marijuana. The man who went to prison for making those threats was not exactly a raging conservative.
But I've never seen such shameless propaganda efforts as over the Arizona killings. Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, scraped bottom when he told Fox News, "Whether [political rhetoric] caused what happened in Tucson or not, it'll cause the next tragedy."
Such jumping to conclusions is used to promote narratives like right-wing fanaticism and gun control. But why not condemn other possible causes—like music and marijuana? Seizing on reports that Jared Loughner had a consuming interest in music, Tony Blankley concluded, "If the politicians and commentators are serious about protecting elected officials from violence, they have to consider the urgent need to curtail and silence the composing and performing of music—in all its forms." What about Loughner's reported use of marijuana and other drugs? Had the war on drugs not become politically incorrect to the left, might they not be talking about drug control rather than gun control? [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]
There's also a dark and cynical humor. The New York Times printed an op-ed this week from former Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski, a Democrat, condemning over-the-top rhetoric. But in October, Kanjorski said of Florida's newly-elected Gov. Rick Scott: "Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to . . . put him against the wall and shoot him."
Hyperbolic terms like target, fight, war, enemy, "anti-American," etc., are used just as commonly on the left as on the right because people grasp them so readily. It's the same reason why the NFL has failed to convince fans to call its tiebreakers "sudden victory" rather than "sudden death."
It's legitimate to report on the controversy sparked by left-wing accusations and right-wing defenses surrounding Tucson, but only if the reporting is not a slanted pretext for criticizing the right.
Our chattering class loves to manufacture outrage. But the American people have a better and more genuine reaction to the shooting: sympathy for the victims and their families.