Echoing the new battle cry of the right, Sarah Palin has come out of hiding to accuse those who suggest over-the-top rhetoric and a volatile political climate might offer some explanation of Saturday's gun rampage in Arizona of manufacturing a “blood libel” against her.
Desperate to defend herself after being called out for placing the cross hairs of a rifle over the home district of a congresswoman, who was then the victim of an assassination attempt, the former governor of Alaska scrubbed her website of the offending imagery and then portrayed herself as the victim. To describe her predicament, Palin used a term for false and aggressively anti-Semitic claims that Jews murder children as part of religious rituals.
The wounded congresswoman, Arizona Democrat Gabrielle Giffords, is Jewish.
"Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible," cried Palin with a campaign-style video and posting on her Facebook page.
What is the proper range of debate according to Palin? Apparently, it is fine for her to claim those who suggest she may have stepped over the line of engaging in the crudest and most violent of smears. But, beyond that, everyone should simply accept that: "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle..."
Palin is picking up on a line that has become the favored talking point on conservative talk radio in recent days.
Hyper-defensive conservative talk-radio and talk-television hosts are attacking anyone who tries to suggests that angry political rhetoric, weak gun laws or inadequate programs to address mental illness might offer an explanation for the Tucson shooting rampage that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords wounded and six Arizonans dead.
They are even condemning the local sheriff for daring to offer his perspective—as a lawman with more than five decades of experience—on how Arizona's toxic political climate might have influenced an unstable man with a gun.
One of the standard lines rattling around the conservative echo chamber in recent days has been the claim that it is disrepectful of the victims to "politicize" the discussion of what happened in Tucson. Genuine, wide-ranging dialogue that fails to follow their rigid talking points is "playing politics," argues Rush Limbaugh.
But what does the local daily newspaper in Tucson, the Arizona Daily Star, say?
The Daily Star, which last fall backed Republican John McCain for the Senate and Democrat Giffords for the House, editorialized on on the eve of Wednesday's memorial service for the victims that "as the grieving continues, we must still seek answers."
And it rejected the notion that it is wrong to talk about "the poisonous atmosphere that has engulfed Arizona and the nation."
"Gun imagery, talk of "targeting" elected officials and taking out political opponents have become pervasive. The bitter 2010 election turned up the volume. Demonizing people who have different opinions makes for easy media punditry and cheap entertainment," argues the paper. "It needs to stop. Trafficking in violent imagery and treating any person, whether an elected official or someone who supports a particular cause, as objects makes them almost an abstract. It's too easy to hate an abstract."
The editors are not casual in their assessment, or quick to suggest that there are easy answers.
"Whether or not the gunman was motivated by a particular political ideology or pumped up by the trash that passes for discourse is, in the most fundamental way, immaterial. And it's not the reason to stop the pervasive and corrosive rhetoric," they suggest. "The reason is so much simpler—the demonizing is tearing apart our country from within. When we see each other as the enemy, we cannot rise above and come together for the greater good."
"It shouldn't take a massacre for us to talk to each other instead of only about each other," the paper suggests, as part of an editorial that argues: "It's logical to try to make sense of such horror."
Here's the full editorial as it appeared in Tuesday's editions of the Daily Star:
Even when actions defy logic, we still want the answer to one question: Why?
Why did a gunman open fire at a supermarket and kill six people? Why did he shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head? Why did he do it?
We seek answers where sometimes there are none to find.
The immediate reaction of some has been to point to the poisonous atmosphere that has engulfed Arizona and the nation.
Gun imagery, talk of "targeting" elected officials and taking out political opponents have become pervasive. The bitter 2010 election turned up the volume. Demonizing people who have different opinions makes for easy media punditry and cheap entertainment.
It needs to stop. Trafficking in violent imagery and treating any person, whether an elected official or someone who supports a particular cause, as objects makes them almost an abstract. It's too easy to hate an abstract.
Whether or not the gunman was motivated by a particular political ideology or pumped up by the trash that passes for discourse is, in the most fundamental way, immaterial.
And it's not the reason to stop the pervasive and corrosive rhetoric. The reason is so much simpler - the demonizing is tearing apart our country from within. When we see each other as the enemy, we cannot rise above and come together for the greater good.
It shouldn't take a massacre for us to talk to each other instead of only about each other.
And it would be easier to understand the tragedy if we could point to something specific, some reason—however flawed—for why a young man targeted a public servant for assassination, and killed and wounded others.
But that's a rational response to an irrational situation.
So we must look at the whole picture. Jared Lee Loughner, charged in the attack, appears to have a history of mental illness. He had public outbursts and was told by Pima Community College that he could not return without a mental-health evaluation and clearance from a professional. He left school instead.
Did anyone try to get him help? Did they try and fail? Why couldn't this have been prevented? Putting the pieces together after the fact makes for a much more disturbing, complete picture than what might have been known before Saturday morning.
But if these questions are familiar, they are not new.
The same shock and disbelief welled up in the fall of 2002 when Robert S. Flores, a University of Arizona nursing student, brought a gun to campus and murdered three faculty members before killing himself.
Why did this happen—how could it happen—we all asked aloud in 2002.
Why didn't anyone see what could happen and stop a volatile man who so clearly was disturbed?
The same questions persist.
The answers aren't easy. In Arizona, people can't be forced to accept mental-illness treatment—and even if they seek it, state budget cuts have made it difficult to access.
In Arizona the court can commit a person who is "persistently or acutely disabled or is gravely disabled and in need of treatment, and is either unwilling or unable to accept voluntary treatment."
A parent can't commit an adult child, for example, unless specific conditions are met. What seems so clear needed to be done in hindsight isn't necessarily possible before tragedy happens.
Arizona's laws on intervention and treatment for mental illness must be examined and, almost certainly, reformed.
Arizona's gun laws are another facet of this terrible situation. The gun Loughner is accused of using was legally purchased. He did not fail a background check and was allowed to carry a weapon concealed or in the open.
Arizona's gun laws and their premise need thorough examination. It's too easy to access weapons in our state, and the consequences are too dear.
The Star editorial board will explore both of these issues in the coming weeks and months.
As the grieving continues, we must still seek answers.