Mine was a circuitous route from philosophy to politics, and there are few recent events that better illustrate the difference between my origin and ultimate destination than the tragic event in Tucson last week.
Already, the pundits are talking about the “post-Tucson climate” of politics going forward, one where “rancor” and “vitriol” should have no place.
In other words, let’s put a muzzle on conservative radio show hosts, Tea Party leaders, and pro-life/pro-marriage activists. All of these people should tone it down, embrace “civility,” and stop “inciting” violence in the likes of Jared Lee Loughner.
No doubt, the Democrats hope Tucson and its aftermath will provide the silver bullet to stop the growing popularity and power of Sarah Palin. (For a politician who is supposed to have no possibility of winning the White House, Palin draws a remarkable amount of fire.)
Sharp-edged political rhetoric had nothing to do with the Tucson shooting, of course. None of Aristotle’s four causes — not first, not final, not formal, not efficient — link Loughner’s rampage to political chatter.
The cause of Loughner’s violence, his steady descent into madness and misanthropy, is being chronicled — but you will look in vain for a trajectory allied with a discernible political agenda, Left or Right.
Editorials in the Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Washington Post rejected the accusation that rightwing rhetoric pushed Loughner’s buttons, but in trying to have it both ways, the New York Times made, perhaps, the most outrageous claim:
It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge.
Obviously the finger is being pointed at the likes of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Sean Hannity in particular, but what research does the editorial staff at the New York Times possess that proves the correlation between the GOP and those who threaten to shoot innocent people?
As a scholar, I asked questions about what was really real, but in politics even the most obvious of facts can be ignored for the sake of scoring a partisan blow.
There will be those for whom the Tucson tragedy, and others like it, are nothing else but a partisan opportunity. Wallowing in bad conscience, such operatives never remove the mask of political theater, never take time simply to mourn, simply to regret that guns are in the hands of the mentally ill.
It’s useless to protest the chimerical reality concocted in the media after an event like Tucson. Even President Barack Obama calling the charge “fallacious” could not put the cat back in the bag. Once released into the air, these accusations float through the media and into everyday conversation, creating a buzz that politicians and public figures ignore at their own peril.
Thus, the inane becomes plausible; as a result, though Senator X and Governor Y may know the take on Tucson is a purely imagined construct, they are nevertheless forced to play along for fear of being caught in the backlash. This is the only way to explain the comments of Florida governor Jeb Bush on Fox News, seeming to apologize for once being “in your face about my beliefs.”
Politics will always be more about the passions than reason, more about gaining control of the meteorology of the political weather map than persuading voters with good arguments. Its narratives share more with the stories of Maupassant and the plays of Shakespeare than the Ethics of Aristotle.
This is not to say that those in politics have given up on knowing the truth behind the flickering appearances — but the difficulty they face when responding to nonsense on stilts is great indeed.