The Knox family and The Firearms Coalition join with the rest of the nation to mourn a senseless act of despicable cruelty perpetrated by a tragically deranged individual. We pray for the recovery of the wounded and comfort for the survivors, and we pray that the perpetrator will see swift and stern justice under the law.
We are members of an intricate web of family and community, and this tragedy brushed very close to our family. My brother Chris lives in Arizona and knows people who have served on Representative Giffords’ staff. His son attends the University of Arizona and lives only a few minutes away from the site of the shooting.
With the fresh blood of victims on the sidewalk, the anti-rights crowd immediately started dancing in it even as they perversely claimed the moral high ground. Only a few hours after the shooting the “Brady Bunch” had posted a release under Paul Helmke’s byline blaming the shooting on “heated political rhetoric,” citing Sarah Palin’s use of crosshair icons on a map targeting certain Democrats for defeat and quoting a year-old remark from National Rifle Association Chief Wayne LaPierre stating that “the guys with the guns make the rules.”
I could write a whole column on Helmke’s absurd and intentional misinterpretation of LaPierre’s remark, but I’ll save that for another time.
Right now what strikes me most about Helmke’s statement is that blaming the Tucson shooting on overheated political rhetoric is an excellent example of overheated political rhetoric.
My late father, Neal Knox, coined the phrase “dancing in the victims’ blood” as the repeated strategic pattern followed by opponents of gun rights. In the wake of a shooting or other tragic event, before the blood is cleaned up, the gun banners attempt to use the horror to their political − and fund-raising − advantage.
Obama’s former Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel famously synthesized the strategy: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
This crime threatens the First Amendment as well as the Second. Already some of the chin-stroking crowd in the media have characterized free-wheeling and sometimes over-the-top rhetoric as “hate speech” worthy of censorship. I don’t expect a replication of campus “speech codes,” but I do expect to see a chilling effect on political and policy debate as the 112th Congress gets down to business.
The finger-pointing of the past few days has been as absurd as existential theater. Amidst a blizzard of vitriol from the left decrying the crosshairs on the Palin site (which have since disappeared), more vitriol has flowed from the right toward the liberal web site Daily Kos, which only a couple of days ago included a post from a “BoyBlue” claiming that Gabrielle Giffords was “dead to me” because her votes were not leftish enough to suit him. The “BoyBlue” post has disappeared down the same memory hole as Sarah Palin’s crosshairs.
So much for instant communications in the wired age being more effective. In the wake of this heinous crime, the Internet simply gave the media the ability to report inaccurate news much faster, enabled political players to doctor the record and provided politically motivated speculators a louder bullhorn.
The Tucson massacre echoes another horrific incident in our nation’s history: the Oklahoma City bombing. Sixteen years ago, a newly-energized Republican majority swept into power after a heated mid-term election that had handed a stunning rebuke to a first-term, liberal Democrat president.
A few days after the Oklahoma City bombing, President Bill Clinton preached a moving elegy invoking God, love of country and fellow man and the need for civility in public discourse. His beautifully written sermon also subtly associated the bombers’ motives with the viewpoints of his opponents. The speech was Clinton’s first step down the comeback trail that culminated in his 1996 reelection.
That speech also scuttled any chance of repealing the Clinton gun ban (the so-called “assault weapons” ban), even though Clinton himself had credited gun voters retaliating over the gun ban as the reason that Congress had changed hands.
Now Barack Obama has been handed a similar opportunity at a similar point in his presidency. He was initially, wisely, circumspect in his reaction to the situation while events played out. As I file this column, I am anticipating the perfectly staged moment when he will exercise his silver tongue and preach a moving sermon that also invokes God, love of country and fellow man and the need for civility in public discourse. In that speech I expect him to subtly associate opposition to his health care and economic agenda with the Tucson shooting, and maybe to overtly use the massacre to call for “gun control” measures that would have had no effect on this tragedy.
With the celebration of their November victory spoiled, the Republicans now face a difficult situation. This is an opportunity for the Democrats not just to chill free speech, but to freeze it. As they dance in the blood of victims they will associate any opposition to their programs with the actions of the Tucson killer. Republicans have historically shown little heart for this kind of fight. We’ll soon see whether the new-breed tea-party Republicans have what it takes to wade into the storm.