Another Perspective

Defending ‘Toxic’ Rhetoric

What if the Arizona killer had been a Tea Party conservative?

By 1.14.11

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Within hours of the Arizona massacre, as we know, unprincipled partisans accused conservatives of responsibility. Nothing was known of the gunman or his motives, but ignorance was no impediment to their predetermined verdict. "We don't have proof yet that this was political," admitted guilt-peddler Paul Krugman in the New York Times, "but the odds are that it was." Those sharing Krugman's exploitative intent advanced his politically motivated supposition by indicting Sarah Palin, the Tea Party and all-things-conservative for cultivating a "culture of hate" through "toxic" rhetoric.

The facts subsequently exonerated conservatives of culpability. Jared Loughner is demonstrably anti-conservative, an apolitical anarchist influenced more by communist and Nazi ideologies than anything in the American spectrum. More significantly, Loughner is insane, motivated by delusions of mind-control and hallucinations rather than politics.

Conceding that Loughner didn't fit the Tea Party profile, most partisans shifted their focus to tightening gun laws -- before the opportunity to capitalize on a crisis went to waste. More relentless parties, like Krugman, perversely continue to rail against right-wing rhetoric even as they admit Loughner wasn't influenced by political rhetoric.

But what if he had been? 

What if Loughner wasn't a tin-foil-hat lunatic, but a card-carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, a disciple of Sarah Palin and full-throated, tea-dumping critic of Obama's taxation-nation? What difference would it make?

Republicans have ardently repelled accusations that Loughner acted on conservative principles, but they ought not to have had reason for such defensiveness.

Precedent stipulates that Americans refrain from jumping to conclusions and forebear urges to stereotype. That was the lesson of 9/11, the shoe-bomber, the Times Square bomber, the Ft. Hood massacre and dozens of attacks here and abroad by Muslims proclaiming their intent to kill in the name of Islam. Abstention from generalization has its virtues -- and limits -- and is the standard of political correctness to which we're committed when it comes to Islam.

Yet in the absence of any evidence linking Loughner to conservatives -- he hardly prefaced his attack by yelling, "No taxation without representation!" -- non-judgmentalists were salivating to castigate conservatives. Imagine the rapture with which Krugman and his ilk would have pounced upon their fellow Americans had Loughner joined the Tea Party. Obviously, this double standard reveals rank hypocrisy toward conservatives -- no news there. The greater hypocrisy -- and peril -- lies in the left's demand for conservatives to refrain from "toxic" rhetoric.

Those insisting that right-wing rhetoric is to blame for this, or future, atrocities have two goals: to generally disparage conservatives and to silence political opposition to liberal policies. The former is the typical politicking customary to baser characters in every party. The second, however, bears on a fundamental aspect of American democracy: free speech.

Certainly, speech has boundaries. The first boundary is legal. Words inciting violence or panic are excepted from First Amendment protections. But assertions that conservatives have engaged in such solicitations are absurd -- as evidenced by the dearth of examples accompanying accusations by Krugman et al. Even Democrat Paul Kanjorski's recent public suggestion that we stand the Republican candidate for Governor of Florida "against a wall and shoot him" doesn't reach the level of criminality. Again, Republicans have never uttered such invectives.

The second boundary is political. Political parties bear some responsibility to enforce rhetorical limits internally. For example, Democrats might have condemned any of the hundreds of liberal protestors holding various "Kill/Shoot/Hang Bush" posters at leftist demonstration across the country for eight years. Republicans have never had occasion to reprimand conservatives for such consistent depths of depravity.

The principal enforcement of political boundaries, however, is dispensed by voters at the polls. This is the inspiration for the left's hysterical campaign against Republican rhetoric: voters rejected Democrats last November on the issues, so they hope by libeling conservatives with murder and demonizing the mode of their message that voters will reject Republicans in 2012.

Fortunately, Americans have again rejected liberal notions and absolved conservatives of breaching political etiquette. Political speech demands broad allowances and Tea Party rhetoric is the essence of such dialogue. Obama as big-government socialist, tax-and-spend liberal or anti-American Islamophile may (or may not) border on hyperbole, but these sound-bites resonate with discontented Americans.

Whether Loughner is a nihilist maniac or conservative republican is irrelevant -- singular actions do not vilify a group, and conservative rhetoric has only proved "toxic" to Democrats at the polls. The Tea Party's culture is popular engagement and political accountability -- not hate. Attempts to suppress its members' speech is a strategy of desperation and vice. Gritty political debate is indispensable to American democracy.

But, just for good measure, maybe Democrats could tone it down a bit.

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About the Author

Justin Paulette is an attorney practicing and teaching international law. He blogs at NoLeftTurns.