Immediately after President Obama’s inspiring speech at the memorial for the victims of the Tucson mass murder last week, the right wing finally figured out how to respond to the outrage over the gun-toting rhetoric it’s been ramping up since the 2008 election: They claimed that Obama had absolved them.
Charles Krauthammer, Chris Wallace, and Brit Hume, in a joint sigh of relief at Obama’s call to stop "assigning blame" for the tragedy, all praised the speech, with only a few initial quibbles. Even Glenn Beck deemed it "probably the best speech he has ever given," and found fault only that Obama’s exonerating words came "late" (although Beck was mum on the timing of Palin’s "blood libel" video, which shipped on the morning the same day). But it was Pat Buchanan who spelled out exactly why Obama’s "outstanding speech" was music to conservative ears: It sent, he said, "a fairly stern admonition, especially to the far left in this country, which has been quite frankly conducting something of a lynch mob against Glenn Beck, against Sarah Palin, against Rush Limbaugh."
Or as a commenter on Conservatives4Palin.com wrote:"So his followers (libs, the media etc.) now look like complete idiots. REALLY big idiots. HA! Sarah won again my friends."
Here’s the quote from Obama’s address that most conservative pundits have interpreted as their own private presidential pardon: "But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. That we cannot do. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."
There’s that scary bit about "empathy" and the implied collectivism of "together" at the end, but asking people to stop blaming each other is like the balm of Gilead for Republicans just now. Most know (despite Glenn Beck) their American history: political assassinations have often ushered in eras of progressive legislative action as popular opinion reels away from political violence. Abe Lincoln’s murder led to a Reconstruction that elected black governors, congressmen and legislatures; William McKinley’s assassination led to Teddy Roosevelt and the Progressive Era; JFK’s killing helped Lyndon Johnson pass not only the 1964 Civil Rights Act but Medicare, too. Even the attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life led to the Brady bill. The flood of empathy that a public killing unleashes can unblock log jams carefully tended for years, even decades, and conservatives absolutely have to get the national conversation off the subject of who’s to blame for encouraging violence.