After this horrible news from Tucson....
... let me amplify something I said half-coherently in a live conversation with Guy Raz on All Things Considered a little while ago. My intended point was:
Shootings of political figures are by definition "political." That's how the target came to public notice; it is why we say "assassination" rather than plain murder.
But it is striking how rarely the "politics" of an assassination (or attempt) match up cleanly with the main issues for which a public figure has stood. Some killings reflect "pure" politics: John Wilkes Booth shooting Abraham Lincoln, the German officers who tried to kill Hitler and derail his war plans. We don't know exactly why James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King, but it must have had a lot to do with civil rights.
There is a longer list of odder or murkier motives:
- Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any "normal" political issue.
- Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan's political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.