Political assassins are very often loners and losers, alienated borderline personalities on a quest to prove they're not as small as they feel. And often to die in their attacks and finally to quell their sense of worthlessness.
Jared Loughner is cut from this cloth. His writings look, frankly, crazy. They give a whole new meaning to warp and woof.
Is it enough to leave it there? To alibi that the shootings in Tucson are simply an unavoidable tragedy?
No, of course not. We have made choices - political choices - that make political murder more likely. We can unmake these choices if enough of us think it's important enough.
First off, we live in an open society. I've been struck by Representatives saying in response to the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords that they need free access to us, the citizens, and of course we need access to them. They're not aristocrats.
Maintaining an open society is far too important to surrender, even to a succession of lone wolves. An open society is what we have democratic politics for. If we were not going to control movement and public access to our elected officials after 1968 or 9/11, we shouldn't start now. That doesn't mean we can't provide more security for judges and Congresspeople.
Second, we have decided, both for freedom and to save money, to mainstream people with even large and obvious mental health deficits. It's not surprising that a few of them span the fuzzy borderline between weirdness and malevolence.
I doubt very seriously that there's any new rule about mental health interventions that would have blocked Loughner consistent with personal freedom for people who are not actually coming apart. What if we made a national choice to have coverage parity for mental illness in our health insurance system! Private insurance companies won't cover anything out of the goodness of their hearts, so this would take law-making.
Oh, right, Giffords voted for exactly this sort of requirement in the passage of Obamacare, and that's one of the two major reasons the teabaggers hate her (the other being her opposition to the Jan Brewer profile-a-Mexican act). Repealing mental health parity is what the Republican caucus in the House wants to do.
Third, we have decided that wide access to guns is a vital political right. Few places have taken this decision further than Arizona. Loughner could easily buy his Glock semi and, apparently, at least three extended clips, each holding 30 bullets. He could legally carry it concealed without any vetting of his mental health. Without any review before the fact.
The Arizona legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer enacted the right to concealed carry in 2010. In 2007, when Loughner previously attended a Giffords event, had he been carrying his Glock, he would have been subject to arrest long before raising his coward's arm to the back of her head and inflicting a wound roughly the magnitude with which John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln.
Arizona is a place where the law is extremely pro-gun. A bar or restaurant that chooses to be a gun-free zone must post its ban:
Last, we choose to protect free speech right up to the edge of incitement to violence and maybe even past the edge. (h/t Digby)
Free speech is not only a First Amendment right, it's a core value of Americans. We don't want to be told we can't say pretty much whatever springs to mind. Loughner, even, holds this value, insanely wanting the right to call the number 6 "eighteen."
Legally, incitement to violence has a high bar and is seldom prosecuted. That's as it should be. Nearly all the hysterical teabagger statements have been protected speech, even when they coarsely and immorally revel in fantasies of violence. (I include Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh among the sick purveyors of political violence porn. They're not the worst, of course.)
But there are other responsibilities than legal ones. We live in a society that has grown enured to vicious, ugly political rhetoric, almost all of it from the right wing. As a society, we need to do something about this.
Not outlaw hate speech, of course. Sanction it socially as outside the polite norms of society. Express our disapproval in no uncertain terms. Make the malcontent cranks and liars look like ... the malcontent cranks and liars they are. Treat them like a turd in the punch bowl.
Social norms matter immensely. The reason wingnuts hate political correctness so much is that it constrains the slurs they can use. They'd never admit it, but they have substituted their own much more restrictive PC for the social consensus that they've been attacking for 25 years. Suddenly there are rules against cheering at memorial services that the wingers hope will excuse them from listening to the content. And, of course, every manufactured social norm of the right comes with an IOKIYAR get out of jail free card.
I've been spending a lot of time recently mocking, rebutting, and defending against the usual array of know-nothing wingnuts on the MetroWest Daily News. It is continually amazing how strongly they prefer to be ignoramuses.
Still, it's important that they not go unopposed. There are too many others reading who are easily led astray if all they hear is bile and illiberal bullshit. Roll up your sleeves, pick a site, and start tearing down the haters.
Note: I wrote nearly all of this on Jan. 9 but didn't think it was finished. Today, I added seven paragraphs to the end (which really wasn't finished), took out some blank spaces where I had intended to go on longer, and hit Publish Post.