The shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, along with federal judge John Roll (a Republican appointee) and numerous others, including a nine year-old constituent of the Congresswoman, resulting in the deaths of six (including the judge and the little girl) and brain injury to the congresswoman, prompted the usual ruminations.
While everybody made appropriate noises about the tragic circumstances, the losses, and the apparent madness of a deranged shooter, it wasn’t long before media pundits and many politicians were blaming political adversaries, with the cries going up against the usual suspects: Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Fox News (of course).
Even before we knew much about the shooter (who turned out to be a seeming paranoid who believes the U.S. government is using grammar to control our minds), aggressive, left-leaning pundits like New York Times columnist Paul Krugman blamed those on the right.
Speaking of Congresswoman Giffords, Krugman wrote: “She’s been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she’s a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona . . .”
Thus Giffords, herself conservative on a number of issues, was targeted by bloodthirsty right-wingers, in Krugman’s view. According to Krugman, “Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate.”
Somehow forgotten, by Krugman and others echoing comments like his, is all the hate their own side pumped into the discourse over the past decade that contributed to the warming of the current political climate. For eight long years, beginning in 2000, Krugman and his cohorts carried on relentless rhetorical warfare against the Bush administration and Republicans more generally.
George W. Bush, they told us, stole his first presidential election from Al Gore (when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of halting a seemingly endless demand for recounts by the Gore campaign), and his second election against John Kerry, if you believe the more extremist partisans on the left.
Bush, they baldly and routinely proclaimed, was a liar, a draft dodger, a lush, a drug abuser, a dolt and a political poseur scheming to suppress American democracy by subverting the Constitution. He never planned to step down when his terms were done, we were assured. He was a budding dictator preparing a coup d’état against our democracy. And, oh yes, he tortured captured terrorists and kept large numbers of them bottled up in a military prison at Guantanamo, violating their supposed Constitutional rights.
(Meanwhile his administration’s efforts to try those same prisoners by traditional wartime military tribunals were blocked at every turn by critics, enabling them to further claim that Bush was denying them their day in court!)
It’s legitimate in political debate to disagree on policy questions but the criticism of George W. Bush never stopped there. Bush’s opponents on the left labeled him a fascist, another Hitler, a murderer. Journalists were as hostile in their attacks on the president as anyone. The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait famously wrote that he “hated” George W. Bush. And movie makers, left-leaning on balance themselves, were no less visceral in their contempt for the 43rd president, one even making a film about his fictional assassination. Imagine the public uproar if the same thing were done about President Obama.
Recently a friend of mine, a dedicated supporter of our current president, sent me an e-mail lampooning critics of the new healthcare law, slamming such criticism as “racist.” When I wrote back and called him on it he replied that it was racist because the law was being labeled “Obamacare” by its opponents, an attempt, he believed, to demonize the president. He never replied when I asked if this was anything like calling the 2003 tax reductions the “Bush tax cuts.”
In the minds of some, criticism of one’s political adversaries seems reprehensible, even racist, when it’s directed against those they support but not when the shoe is on their foot. Eight years of bitter, overheated denunciations of a Republican president and his administration leave no trace in the political firmament of some who only see the righteousness of their own positions while demonizing their opponents. Worse, many of them see no harm in using such terrible moments to turn disaster into opportunity.