Political Hay

Biden Blamed Bush, Gingrich for Virginia Tech Shootings

VP silent on blame in Binghamton, Pittsburgh killings: a lesson from Mark Levin.

By 4.7.09

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It was President Bush's fault.

And Newt's.

When a student went on a rampage and killed 32 students at Virginia Tech in April of 2007, then-Senator Joe Biden, at the time running for the Democrats' presidential nomination, knew exactly who to blame. He pinned the blame squarely on the man in the Oval Office. And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Now Vice President Joe Biden is silent on the topic of presidential responsibility for the mass murders in Binghamton and Pittsburgh. Nor has he laid blame at the feet of current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

What exactly had then-President Bush and ex-Speaker Gingrich done to set off Cho Seung-Hui, the South Korean immigrant who killed himself in the attack? The president and "the Gingrich revolution" of 1994 said Biden, were responsible for something he called "the politics of polarization." Notwithstanding that the "Gingrich revolution" was 13 years earlier, Biden added darkly that the shootings "didn't happen accidentally." Coincidentally, Biden made the remarks in New York at an April gathering of the Reverend Al Sharpton's National Action Network. They were reported at the time by Newsmax on April 20, 2007. Biden was back in New York City addressing the same group on Friday, when news broke of the Binghamton rampage that killed 14.

This time, however, Biden had a different reaction to a shooting spree.

"In Binghamton, someone entered a rec center where an examination was being given for...immigrants to become Americans...Walked in through the back door and allegedly shot and killed up to 13 people," Biden said. "I don't have any more details, except I'd ask you to keep these folks in your prayers. We've got to figure out a way to deal with this senseless, senseless violence."

Unlike his remarks in April 2007 in which he blamed the incumbent Republican president and a former Republican Speaker of the House, Biden was silent as to whether Obama's policies, which he himself is helping to shape, contributed in any way to the shooting. Nor did he offer his thoughts on whether the policies of fellow Democrat and current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have been a contributory factor to the slaughter.

The very next day after Biden's latest speech, in which he did not assign blame for the Binghamton shooting rampage, 23-year-old Richard Poplawski shot and killed three Pittsburgh police officers. Why? The Associated Press quoted the killer's best friend as saying Poplawski's motive was "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and that the cop killer "didn't like our rights being infringed upon."

Biden, uncharacteristically, has been completely silent. No Biden comments can be found on the linking by the killer of what he believed to be a forthcoming Obama policy to the vicious murder of the three Pittsburgh cops.

What we have here is, as the saying goes, a teachable moment. A horrifically sad one at that. It goes far beyond the yet-again foot-in-mouth antics of the garrulous politician who is the number two in the Obama administration.

Let's turn to the new bestseller Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, by radio talk show host Mark Levin. (Full disclosure: Mr. Levin is a former colleague from the Reagan administration.)

Specifically, the focus Levin gives at the very beginning of his book to the Conservative's belief in the importance of the civil society. One of the conditions of a civil society, Levin writes, is respect for the individual as a "unique, spiritual being with a soul and a conscience." But that respect for an individual's freedom also brings in its turn responsibility by the individual. In the civil society, Levin writes, "the individual has a duty to respect the unalienable rights of others and the values, customs, and traditions, tried and tested over time and passed from one generation to the next, that established society's cultural identity. He is responsible for attending to his own well-being and that of his family. And he has a duty as a citizen to contribute voluntarily to the welfare of his community through good works." He or she must respect the rule of law.

Suffice to say, both the killer in Binghamton, Vietnamese immigrant Jiverly Voong, and Pittsburgh's American-born Poplawski utterly failed in the most basic task of not just American civil society but any civil society. They had what most American citizens treasure, what people from around the world stream into this country every day (legally and illegally) to achieve -- the right to be treated as an individual. To exercise their freedom to, as Levin puts it, pursue their own legitimate interests in a civil society, to work towards the achievement of their dreams under the rule of law. Both men quite deliberately used their freedom, their individual choice, to violate the rule of law. To commit mass murder. And in the civil society there must be consequences for such actions to the individuals who took them. In fact there are. Voong shot himself to death, understanding surely that he would never be free a single minute longer after his capture. Poplawski, after shooting two cops point-blank in the head as they stood in his doorway and a third behind them, told a friend he would die that day. He didn't, not having the guts to inflict the same punishment on himself that he had just served on the three policemen whose job it was to protect the citizens of the civil society of Pittsburgh. To enforce the rule of law. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provides the death penalty for cop killers. Mr. Poplawski killed three in cold blood, and it's a safe bet that his fellow citizens in the civil society of a state once governed by Founding Father Benjamin Franklin will be watching his fate closely.

But there is a larger pattern here. And as the Biden accusations against Bush and Gingrich illustrate, a pattern that is both unhealthy for the country as well as capable of backfiring on the accuser. The pattern? Blaming not the individuals who committed the acts but others -- a president or a former Speaker for example -- in what is actually a move towards what Levin has accurately termed "political suppression."

Here are some examples.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated while riding through the streets of Dallas, Texas, in November 1963, the finger of blame was pointed quickly. At the nascent conservative movement in general and at the politically conservative city of Dallas in particular. In spite of overwhelming evidence, never successfully refuted to this day in spite of countless conspiracy books and director Oliver Stone's Hollywood fantasy, JFK's assassin was in fact a left-wing Communist sympathizer named Lee Harvey Oswald. Yet the media of the day treated the story as if the American right had killed the president. Worse still, the entire city of Dallas stood accused of creating an atmosphere where it was OK kill the president. The accusation grew even more bizarre when it was discovered that Oswald, an activist in a group called "Fair Play for Cuba" and who believed JFK was too hard on Cuba, was also responsible for taking a shot at the retired right-wing General Edwin Walker a few months before. The then unknown assailant sent a bullet crashing through the window of the ex-general's home, just missing him. Walker, a Dallas resident, was no liberal. He was about as high a profile right-winger as existed in 1963, having been fired by JFK's Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara for allegedly pushing his right-wing politics on his troops. In Oswald's fanatical mind he was targeting men he perceived to be two right-wingers, the genuinely far right-wing Walker, and Democrat JFK, who was just a year over his success at forcing the removal of Soviet missiles from Castro's Cuba.

None of this made an iota of difference to the media of the day. They were determined to shift responsibility from the individual who actually pulled the trigger -- Oswald -- and place it elsewhere. Story after story poured forth about all the right-wing hate in Dallas, insinuating when not claiming outright that the popular JFK was now dead because of it. The goal: political suppression. To smother the infant conservative movement in its political crib.

As the sad weekend of mourning for Kennedy unfolded, no less than CBS anchor Walter Cronkite told Americans that Kennedy's famous conservative critic of the day, his potential 1964 challenger Senator Barry Goldwater, would not be paying his respects to the murdered President because he was too busy giving a political speech in Indiana.

A stunned Goldwater, who in fact counted the liberal JFK as one of his best friends in the Senate and was heartbroken at his death, was in fact tending to some sad personal business of his own. Wrote a still-furious Goldwater decades later of this incident: "The inference was clear. I wasn't showing the proper respect to the slain President and the office. I was never so angry in my life, and I phoned Cronkite to say, 'Mr. Cronkite, I don't know you. I've always respected you. But you just told CBS viewers a blatant lie. I'm not here in Indiana to make a political speech, but to help bury my mother-in-law." In fact, JFK and Goldwater, in a tale common to the Senate, had developed a warm friendship across ideological lines. With an eye to creating a modern version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, the two friends had discussed traveling together in the 1964 campaign were Goldwater to win the nomination against Kennedy. Instead, Goldwater was portrayed on national television as the angry conservative who took cold glee at the murder of Kennedy. And was, in some sort of undefined way attributable to his beliefs and words, perhaps responsible for the whole thing.

This pattern of following a particularly horrific act of public violence with accusations vague or specific against a popular conservative figure of the day has continued apace from 1963 down to recent times, expanding as, no coincidence, the conservative movement has grown. Biden is not alone in using it. In 1992, the South Central Los Angeles riots were blamed not on the individuals who rioted. No, the riots were the fault of then-President George H.W. Bush. In 1995, then-President Clinton tried to pin responsibility for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh not where it belonged -- on McVeigh -- but on Rush Limbaugh, attacking the "purveyors of hatred and division" on the "airwaves of America." In August of 2008, a crazed man shot Arkansas Democratic State Chairman Bill Gwatney to death before being shot and killed himself by police. Liberal bloggers immediately jumped to pin the blame for Gwatney's murder on conservative columnist Michelle Malkin and Fox TV and radio talk show host Sean Hannity. As this is written, both Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos and the Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan are pinning the Pittsburgh murders on…wait for it…Fox's new star, radio host Glenn Beck.

Each time, the objective is the same: political suppression. Remove responsibility for the actual act of violence from the perpetrating individual or individuals and assign it to someone else. A conservative. The more prominent the better.

In its own bizarre fashion, this pattern of insisting conservative leaders are somehow responsible for specific acts of violence is one more instance of the left's drive not only to suppress dissent but to remove us all from responsibility for our own lives. It is the more gruesome illustration of the precisely pinpointed argument Levin makes in his book. This way of thinking says that Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't responsible for his own actions, it was an entire city or the words of a political opponent. It wasn't Tim McVeigh who bears responsibility for his own actions -- Rush Limbaugh did it. The Arkansas State Chairman is dead because Michelle Malkin and Sean Hannity made the killer do it. Three policemen in Pittsburgh are shot point blank because Glenn Beck made Mr. Poplawski do it. And therefore, you see, freedom X, Y or Z must be removed by the government (he First Amendment rights of the Fox or radio people perhaps, or the Second Amendment rights of yours) because people simply are not capable of handling freedom.

This pattern has not only long ago reached the loony stage, it is part and parcel of the larger liberal insistence that individual Americans cannot and should not be held accountable for their own actions. This idea ruined generations of families by not holding individual welfare recipients responsible for working to provide for themselves. It drove crime rates off the charts by insisting criminals weren't really responsible for what they did as individuals -- it was "poverty" or "the system" that caused them to act the violent way they did. And yes, it has now led to the point that says business A, B, or C must be taken over by the government because the individuals who ran the company into the ground must not be allowed to cope with the consequences of their own failure -- which is to say filing for bankruptcy. So the government will be responsible, or, as Levin calls them, the Statists. The State will be making these decisions now, thank you very much. Not private individuals.

Stop and think of the irony here. Where was Biden speaking when he accused Bush and Gingrich of responsibility for the Virginia Tech shootings? The same place, the very same place he was speaking when informed of the killings in Binghamton two years later. To a group run by Al Sharpton. Sharpton, of course, is infamous for whipping up emotionally-frenzied protests against a Harlem store called Freddie's Fashion Mart. Reason? It was owned by a white man who was also a Jew. Sharpton, in a blatantly racist and anti-Semitic move, called the man a "white interloper" Shortly afterwards, one of Sharpton's protesters entered Freddie's with a gun and a flammable liquid, killing seven customers and setting the store ablaze, also shooting himself. Who does Biden hold responsible here? It must be the individual who actually did the deed, not Al Sharpton. Surely the Vice President of the United States would not be spending his time giving speeches to a group run by someone whose words and actions were responsible for the murders at Freddie's, would he?

Now the danger to the left of what is in fact an attempt at political suppression targeting conservatives is made plain by the revelation of then-Senator Biden playing the game of "blame the president for a mass murder." As the Rev. Jeremiah Wright might say, Biden's chickens have come to roost.

Is it OK to blame a president for the actions of a murderer?

Apparently Richard Poplawski thinks so. Three Pittsburgh policemen have been murdered by Mr. Poplawski. According to his friends, President Obama made him do it. Not Glenn Beck or Rush or Sean or Michelle or George W. or Newt. Not Barry Goldwater or Dallas or the atmosphere in the city of Pittsburgh.

No, Richard Poplawski has taken Joe Biden at his word.

The President is responsible.

Joe Biden, for once, is speechless.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.