Mr Kurtz, He Dead Wrong

If one were to try and muster the most pious response to the attempted Giffords assassination - and actual assassination of a federal judge - it would be hard to beat this:

I hate to say this, but the blame game is already under way.

It began within hours of Saturday's horrifying shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nearly 20 others, even before the gunman was identified.

One of the first to be dragged into this sickening ritual of guilt by association: Sarah Palin...

Here we go again in Arizona, as people with political agendas unleash their attacks even before the victims of this senseless shooting have been buried. I find it depressing beyond belief.

This isn't about a nearly year-old Sarah Palin map; it's about a lone nutjob who doesn't value human life. It would be nice if we briefly put aside partisan differences and came together with sympathy and support for Gabby Giffords and the other victims, rather than opening rhetorical fire ourselves.

I have yet to read or hear anyone who has both decried the violent rhetoric of the Palinite right and who doesn't also feel sympathy for the victims of this mass murder - so one of Kurtz's straw men disintegrates upon even momentary reflection. But here's the important point: when public officials are gunned down in public, it is deeply relevant to figure out why, and to ask questions and seek answers immediately. Those questions and answers will inevitably involve politics. To describe this process as "sickening" is a bizarre view for a journalist.

And then there's the second straw man. No one is saying Sarah Palin should be viewed as an accomplice to murder. Many are merely saying that her recklessly violent and inflammatory rhetoric has poisoned the discourse and has long run the risk of empowering the deranged. We are saying it's about time someone took responsibility for this kind of rhetorical extremism, because it can and has led to violence and murder.

The facts, moreover, are these: Palin singles out Giffords as a "target" for attack, illustrated by cross-hairs in gun sights, and urges supporters to "reload". This is pointed out at the time and Giffords herself worries that it took things over the edge. Palin had a chance to apologize or retract or soften the rhetoric. She did nothing of the kind. An individual subsequently guns Giffords down. What more, in many relevant respects, do we need to know than this? Any humane person who had published the kind of material Palin published and used the langage she did would surely now regret it. Well: does she? Kurtz acknowledges:

[Palin's] kind of rhetoric is highly unfortunate. The use of the crosshairs was dumb.

So should Palin accept some responsibility for the violence of her rhetoric and imagery - even though no one is saying she ever wanted any actual harm to come to Giffords?

By Kurtz's own logic, yes.