An assessment of the political exploitation of mass murder

In the wake of a horrific mass murder, Paul Krugman, Markos Moulitsas, the New York Times, and countless others all banded together to try to pin the incident on conservatives and libertarians, and especially Sarah Palin. Did it work?

Clearly it did not work completely. The public has soundly rejected their calumny, with a majority seeing correctly that it was just an effort to exploit the tragedy to make conservatives look bad. Only a third thought they were making a legitimate point. Even President Obama rebuked them for it.

On the other hand, Krugman et al. did succeed in starting a meme, saying that our political discourse is too uncivil. That meme seems to be flourishing, even though not a single fact makes it apropos to the current situation.

The key threat to the progressives’ plans is the spirited opposition of the Tea Party movement. If they succeed in stigmatizing spirited political discourse, I think they have to see this as a win. So what if Paul Krugman has been exposed as a liar — it’s not like that hasn’t happened before.

But rest assured. When Republicans are next in power, spirited opposition will once again be “the highest form of patriotism.” Any suggestion that the opposition should moderate their rhetoric will once again be a harbinger of incipient fascism.

The lesson of Ari Fleischer is instructive. Fleischer’s suggestion that Americans “need to watch what they say” was widely misunderstood (in fact he was criticizing a Congressman who said that anyone with “a diaper on his head” needed “to be pulled over and checked”). But even if we take his remark as it was often (mis-)understood, it was much more mild than today’s accusation that spirited opposition results in mass murder. Nevertheless, the people who vilified Fleischer are the same ones who now seek to silence Palin and the Tea Party.

(Previous post.)

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