For GOP politicians striking the right note in the wake of the Tucson shootings is a delicate matter. Republicans are either quiet or defensive – as indeed behooves members of a party that has not exactly gone out on a limb to disavow “Second Amendment remedies.” Take a look at the twitter accounts of most Missouri GOPers from Sunday; if they mention Gabrielle Giffords at all, it is only to offer polite condolences for her unspecified misfortune. There’s certainly something to be said for decorum at a time like this, but, as Politico‘s David Catenese remarked about the silence emanating from GOP Senate challengers:
… in today’s world where it’s increasingly simple to communicate instantly, I found it curious that most candidates for the world’s greatest deliberative body haven’t yet found time or a way to offer their thoughts on what will be the dominant story of the weeks to come.
One exception was Todd Akin (R-2nd) who felt empowered to observe that Americans are free “to express their opinions, to argue and disagree. But this is in a totally different realm. It’s a whole different thing when you talk about murder.” No kidding! One wonders if Rep. Akin, who last year was willing to rile up the yahoos with jokes about lynching Democratic congresspeople, might have just discovered that it’s not a good thing for public figures to implicitly approve of or suggest violence?
Some GOPers have already started playing defense, of course, and I expect that more of our Missourians will soon join the “who me” team as well. These guys know what they’ve been doing and they really don’t want to say sorry. We can already see their playbook taking form: Arizona’s Senator Jon Kyl remarked about the shooter, Jared Laughner, that “it’s probably giving him too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him.” Laughner was just a whack job and you can’t blame Kyl or the GOP for all the whack jobs in the country, right?
When I hear such crass efforts to distance oneself and one’s political and ideological fellow-travelers from the violence in Tucson, Bill Clinton’s remarks at an event commemorating the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing come to my mind:
What we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold – but that the words we use really do matter, because there’s this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike …
One of the things that the conservatives have always brought to the table in America is a reminder that no law can replace personal responsibility. And the more power you have and the more influence you have, the more responsibility you have.
Only one Missouri politician has so far indicated that he understands the importance of personal responsibility as we go forward. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-5th) observed on “Meet the Press” that:
We are in a dark place in this country right now … . The hostility is here. People want to deny it, it is real. Members of Congress either need to turn down the volume, begin to try to exercise some high level of civility, or this darkness will never be overcome with light
I can already hear the more truculent citizens who have enjoyed the past two years of GOP-approved wilding whining about freedom of speech. Such misguided individuals I refer to Matthew Iglesias, who gets the correct response just right:
The idea that upholding important basic liberties requires us to refrain from moral criticism of misconduct is wildly misguided…. There’s something wrong, ethically speaking, with suggesting that your political opponents are orders of magnitude more monstrous than they really are. People who don’t want formal rules policing conduct have an especially strong interest in demonstrating that the absence of rules doesn’t mean a society in which there are no norms of conduct that encourage sociability, cooperation, etc.
In other words, we are personally responsible for our conduct, for what we say and how it influences others. Get it?