We have learned many facts in the short time since Saturday’s tragedy, in which Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was gravely wounded and six others, one of them a 9-year old girl, were killed by a rifle-wielding lunatic at a Safeway in Tuscon. We know much about the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, and his mental instability that evolved into a histrionic opposition toward the government. Now, barely 48 hours later, the debates are just beginning about why and how such a terrible thing could have happened. Soon, the media will begin to assign blame for the tragedy, and many different parties within the American political realm will be named as indirect culprits.
Sarah Palin will bear the brunt of this finger pointing. Yes, much to the ire of her colleagues, she generates rhetoric that often carries violent overtones. Yes, she has showed little sympathy toward Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims since the shooting occurred. Yes, last year, her campaign website featured a graph that placed crosshairs over 19 different congressional districts, including Gifford’s 8th in the southeastern corner of Arizona. The events of the last two days may effectively end Palin’s supposed bid for the 2012 presidency — if not her entire career, which has been built on making incendiary remarks. For these instances — and many others — she deserves to be scrutinized, criticized and stripped of her authority.
Yet, given the terrible nature of the event, it seems immensely inappropriate to blame Palin, or any other politicos that have shared similar sentiments. Fighting rhetoric with rhetoric is an endemic conflict within our political system, and using Palin as a scapegoat for the shooting will only perpetuate this problem. If anyone is to blame other than Loughner, it is those closest to this deeply troubled young man. His parents, friends, teachers and doctors failed him by not providing an outlet to the help he so desperately needed. When he first showed signs of the insanity that led him to the morning of January 8, it was their responsibility to speak up.
What we know of this individual reads as a case study of obvious need for psychiatric care. Since being rejected from the Army two years ago on the grounds of being “unqualified,” Loughner spiraled downward. He used copious amounts of illegal drugs, and became involved with white supremacist groups. He scrawled hate-filled, often incoherent messages on public forums, such as Facebook and Youtube. “The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar” and “if you call me a terrorist, then the argument to call me a terrorist is ad hominem” are two of his quotes. Loughner’s peers at Pima Community College described him as strange, erratic and vaguely threatening. When confronted by the dean of the college and demanded to submit to a psychiatric evaluation, Loughner opted instead to drop out.
Did the visceral musings of politicians and pundits across the country have an effect on Loughner? For now, he’s not saying much, but even if he does open up, can we expect clarity on the matter from a man whose mind was corrupted with such hate and paranoia? If we choose to blame Palin and other like-minded public figures, we only condemn ourselves to much more of the responsive speechifying and self-righteousness that we now hold responsible for the tragedy in Tuscon. Yes, the intensity of our political climate has increased in recent years, owing to an excess of finger-wagging vitriol that has been perpetrated by individuals on both sides of the spectrum. However, it is also fair to point out that Loughner may not have taken notice of this, or anything else that existed outside his warped inner-conscience.
When we heal from this – and we will, as we always have – many questions must be answered to provide the closure that is required under such terrible circumstances. Let’s let Loughner answer them himself.