Posted by: Chris | January 10, 2011


Alex Massie argues for some necessary perspective from those engaging in silly fingerpointing that has followed the assassination attempt in AZ.  The bigger picture:

And this too is normal. Political violence of this type is almost definitionally unhinged but it’s striking how rare it turns out to be the case that the perpetrators can be fitted into one neat political profile or another. And even when they can their targets are frequently so at odds with the meaning of their supposed “philosophy” that trying to “make sense” of such matters becomes an even more frustrating task.

Anyway, we may think these are unusually turbulent times, fanned by unusual quantities of cheap and phoney populism, scaremongering and hysteria but this is not in fact the case. ‘Twas ever thus and the 1960s offer a perspective that might be worth looking at if only, despite all the huffing and puffing, to appreciate how calm and at peace America is these days. Remember McKinley and Garfield too, if you want to go still further back. America ain’t tearing itself apart these days, no matter how much Paul Krugman tries to persuade you it must be. The paranoid style has rarely lacked followers and, just as significantly, the centre has also always had a healthy paranoia of its own. Sometimes, as is the case today or in the aftermath of any other act of grim violence, this will seem unusually plausible.

Often nutbags are just nutbags.  They have always existed and always will.  I sometimes feel like those who engage in this overblown rhetoric about right-wing militiamen or leftist fifth-columnists wish it were true (rather than strictly believing it to be so).   It seems to me analogous to the period immediately preceding the First World War, where the sheer tranquility and prosperity of the time only heightened the perceived stakes of regular petty squabbling or chance occurences by contrast and, with memories of true conflict dulled, only whetted appetites for more.

Whatever you do, Andrew is best ignored until tempers die down.



  1. There’s a certain depressingly predictable irony (if that isn’t too much of a paradox) in the coverage just gotten by someone claiming that the media is partially culpable for giving excessive attention to polarizing and extremist viewpoints.

  2. Massie’s no doubt descriptively correct, but his advice doesn’t follow from his account. What’s wrong with using this as an opportunity to cast intemperate political rhetoric in negative relief?

    I’ve seen three strategies for doing so that aren’t even all that disingenuous. The first is to observe that, if you take some of the rhetoric seriously, it is advocating (or making light of) the kind of thing that happened in Arizona. The second notes that, even if intemperate political rhetoric wasn’t actually a causal factor in the assassination, it plausibly could have been (which makes it bad). The third, probably the most effective, is to point out just how distasteful partisan squabbling looks in the present context (a context where we’re more likely to take politics seriously than otherwise, and so where our judgments are more likely to be enlightened).

    If they succeed in marginalizing egregious hacks, I don’t see what the problem is with these kinds of fingerpointing.

    (Also, for an amusingly transparent leftwing attempt to “control the narrative” see here:

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