David Brooks is astonished, sickened, appalled that an attempted assassination of a sitting congresswoman should be immediately regarded as something possibly ... wait for it ... political. In fact, Loughner must be seen in a context in which politics does not exist:
The evidence before us suggests that Loughner was locked in a world far removed from politics as we normally understand it.
So why, one has to ask, does this person with mental illness, carefully select for assassination an already targeted and demonized congresswoman, rather than, say, a supermarket, or a workplace, or a school? We don't know precisely yet - but it sure is relevant to ask that question. Why not shoot up the animal shelter he was fired from? Or the classroom he was banished from? In fact, it is a kind of bizarre suppression to avoid the obviously political fact of the target Loughner selected.
Among those affected by an allegedly "politicized mind" was Giffords's father who made the plainest connection himself:
Her father Spencer Giffords, 75, was rushing to the hospital when asked if his 40-year-old daughter had any enemies. "Yeah," he told The New York Post. "The whole tea party."
The other person with such a polluted brain and soul was Giffords herself who at the time of Palin's provocation complained about an atmosphere of barely suppressed violence, and pointed to "consequences" when put within figurative cross-hairs by a former vice-presidential candidate:
"They really need to realize that the rhetoric and firing people up, and, you know, even things for example, we're on Sarah Palin's targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. When people do that, you gotta realize there's consequences to that action."
This Brooks simply doesn't mention. It would muddy the case for what Peggy Noonan would call "walking quickly past" unfortunate events that reveal a sickness on the right. Note this by David, as if it were somehow damning:
Mainstream news organizations linked the attack to an offensive target map issued by Sarah Palin’s political action committee.
But how could they not when Giffords herself had noted the map at the time and worried about what it might portend? The MSM would have been blatantly irresponsible not to make the connection - if only to note the irony and tragedy, if not to assert an empirical, causal link. David is right to call out those who flatly and crudely drew a direct link without any substantive information. But to raise the question and explore it? How could we not?
To inquire into such a hideously violent culture, where you are put in cross-hairs, endure countless threats, have an opponent posing with an M-16, and a brick thrown through your campaign office window ... and then end up shot at close range? Well, it's a no-brainer. Brooks' own paper today has an enlightening story about the particularly fetid and violent atmosphere in Giffords' district. It's good journalism. But according to Brooks, it is an offensive irrelevance. It should not have run.
You can go back and look at the Dish's live coverage, which seems to me to be trying to assimilate information as fairly as possible. Among the first things I wrote was that David's dichotomy was impossible:
This is so awful that political grandstanding seems both inappropriate right now, and yet also very appropriate. An attempted political assassination is a political act and deserves a political response.
And as the information came in, the Dish concluded that this was both obviously a function of mental illness and a netherworld of condoned violence and extreme rhetoric. In fact, my assessment of the dude's outlook began with:
Peter Pan, Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto. Not exactly a Tea Party purist.
and continued with:
It seems to me so far that he appears a disturbed and dangerous individual able to absorb shards of political conspiracy theories and turn them into evil.
And so on. By 5.47 pm, we have aired a possible diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. I know David isn't accusing me of jumping to some flat Tea Party conclusion; but I find this notion that in real time we should not even be discussing or airing or debating the political and rhetorical climate that preceded this to be a dangerous piety. Airing the question of how public culture affects the disturbed mind is not just legitimate in this case, but vital, in ways that Brooks of all people should understand. David is a very shrewd analyst of culture, of why it matters, of how we are all connected - and yet, suddenly, this one young man exists in a total vacuum, where politics and culture do not exist.
Such a place does not exist - however much some would now like it to.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.