Tucson as an Object Lesson in Political ‘Reality’

tusconmemorial

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.

Deal W. Hudson

By

Deal W. Hudson is president of Catholic Advocate, an organization which engages and encourages faithful Catholics to actively participate in the political process to support elected officials and policies that remain consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah, 21, and Cyprian, 13, who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

  • John Novotny

    Interesting piece but, it’s also important to remember that Loughner was known as a “left wing” by his closest friends.

  • Deacon Ed

    hate Palin, it has strengthened my resolve to support her presidential candidacy should she decide to run. For me the press is a useful barometer about what positions and politicians I should take a serious look at supporting – I simply take the polar opposite position and know I can’t be far from the truth.

    The same forces that tell us that the Right was responsible for Tucson are the same ones that managed to manipulate popular opinion to give us McCain. Thank God for the Tea Party.

  • Dan Deeny

    Interesting article. I notice there is a rosary on the picture. Since I’m making my way through Dr. Loraine Boettner’s book Roman Catholicism, I wonder what he would say about that rosary.

  • Cord Hamrick

    Dan:

    I’ve no idea what your faith background or current denominational affiliation may be.

    (My own, for whatever it’s worth, is: Raised in Southern Baptist churches, non-denominational from college through age 35, four years’ intense study of Scripture and Early Church Fathers from 35-39, and received into full communion with the Catholic church a year ago. I not only hold no animus towards my upbringing, but am grateful to God for the faith inculcated in me by God-fearing people during that time.)

    But whatever it may be, allow me to caution you about Dr. Loraine Boettner’s book. Although he is a worthwhile scholar within his tradition when nearly any other subject is in view, on the subject of the Catholic church what he says is extremely unreliable. It is not as polemical (not to say crazed) as Jack Chick, but the bias level is about the same.

    If you’re going to read Boettner’s Roman Catholicism, you should have in your other hand Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism, to get a balance. Keating doesn’t dedicate his book solely to refuting Boettner, but spends enough time with Boettner to comfortably assert that a major error of misunderstanding or ignorance can be found on nearly every page. Having dealt only with excerpts from Boettner in my own faith journey, I cannot confirm “nearly every page,” but I will say: What I saw really was that bad.

    More broadly, if you’re looking into understanding what Catholics believe, don’t neglect to read books by faithful, current, Catholics on the subject. A lot of folk have some of the wildest notions about Catholic Christianity on account of limiting their reading solely to anti-Catholic authors or to former Catholics who came away from Catholicism with a chip on their shoulder. (It would be rather like learning about Evangelical Christianity only by reading what Sam Kinnison had said on the subject!)

    Like I said, I have no idea what your own faith tradition is. For all I know you’re a Catholic seminarian reading Boettner’s book as a penance. But in case you were on a search for accurate information, I thought I should mention these things.

  • Meredith

    Even the NYT noted that Loughner’s rage was directed at George W. Bush while he was in office. You don’t have to dig very far to realize that this guy is probably schizophrenic, and that almost anything–math class, his dreams–could drive him into a rage. Does anyone really think that if John Boehner says

  • Mother of Two Sons

    as a nation… decisions that have been made over the last 2 1/2 years have brought to the streets millions of people… for the first time…. why? because they are flipping mad!!! And yes, this is having an effect on the young people… and if you get mainstream conservatives to hit the streets you must be heading us down the WRONG path!!! They don’t come out in such numbers, from across the nation for NO REASON…. and they won’t stop until things are remedied to their satisfaction. Most politicians prefer when the masses are silent and disengaged; and have believed we were not paying attention or that we are stupid. They are wrong on both accounts!

    In my view, Sarah Palin is a terrific embodiement of what Americans value about our country, but she is not ready, by any stretch of the imagination, to be the President of the United States.

    Young people do bear the burdens of the country and are impacted by the media and by the words of their parents and by the bias’ of the teachers who teach them. I remember distinctly when I lived in Northeast Tennessee and all of the Churches were talking about “The Lord is Coming” in an imminent, compelling kind of way and the young people were dropping out of High School and getting pregnant and getting married… when you asked them, (which by the way, most adults never do) what are you thinking? They said well if the Lord is coming, why do I need to go to college, why would I not get married and have a baby…. my own boys, 10 and 13 asked me one day, “Do you think He, (The Lord) could wait until I get my license; I was really looking forward to driving a car?”

    This young person has yet to share what he was thinking… to those of us who are not young anymore, we cannot begin to understand what would bring him to commit such violence… I hope that we will get to hear it from him!
    I would like to chalk it up to mental illness, but if one really looks at the state of our nation, I mean really stares it straight in the face, it is in a terrible state! Add to that the number of hours most of our young men have spent playing notoriously violent Xbox and computer video games and to that add the high rate of unemployment of youth 16 – 25 (53.4%). I agree that the over-reaction by media to blame the tone of the voices of the Great Awakening Mainstream Americans is outrageous, so is the rush to judgement to make him insane!
    I hope that we will learn the Truth from him; I hope that all of us will be sensitive to the ears, minds and hearts of our children/young adults. We need to take time to really listen to them, without judgement, understand them; and depending on their age, redirect their time to interests and perspectives that enable them to have a strong foundation of hope-filled Catholic Christian morals and values.

  • Margaret

    Politics and the events of Tucson aside, the level of hate speech in this country is disturbing. The answer is not to ban hate speech, but to use our own First Amendment rights to call it for what it is. There’s a tremendous amount of venom and disinformation floating around. It is spread by the cynical with the aim of stirring up the angry, the alienated, and the ignorant. However, there are far more good and sincere people, who want to know the truth and who find hate speech distasteful. I plan to boycott goods advertised on shows that disseminate venom and write in to the advertisers to tell them of my decision. I think the public is coming down on the side of civility, so I hope that the public shunning of hate speech will at least blunt its effects. Another key to overcoming the problem: education. People taught to think critically are less likely to be swept along by rabid rhetoric.

  • Bob G

    Both Paul Krugman and another far leftie admitted this weekend that the nation is divided between two irreconcilable points of view. Both of these characters were trying to back away from their charges that the Right caused the Tucson shooting, after they were subjected to ridicule and even outrage. Well, duh! At least these people may be starting to get it–that a substantial portion of the electorate does not regard the left as an authority on anything. Divided is still better than confused. Now we all know where we stand.

  • Deacon Ed

    babies have been aborted JUST IN THE USA ALONE since Roe v Wade. If I were to call that for what it is: barbarism at its worst, I could be accused of hate speech and incivility by the liberals.

    When you confront hateful and heinous thinking and behavior what you say will not sound so civil nor pleasant. I have heard of a man who once said the following to one of his best friends: “Get behind me Satan.” To others, he noted that it would be better “For a millstone to be tied around their neck and thrown into the sea.” Such uncivil discourse is intolerable -especially when it comes from God’s mouth.

  • Joanie

    Frank Rich says “No one listened” to the Congresswoman…I guess that would include the Sheriff of AZ for sure! Isn’t he the first responder for investigating threats against public officials in his jurisdiction? Or is it just easier to pass the buck at the press conference to deflect blame?

  • Mark

    - During 1995, there were 21,610 murders in the U.S. Population
    262,755,000 (8.2 per 100,000)

    - Fox News airs for first time in 1996 (as political talk radio rises in popularity)

    - During 2009, there were 15,241 murders in the U.S. Population 307,006,550 (5.0 per 100,000)

    It appears as though the liberals (who never let the facts get in the way of a good agenda) need to come up with a better excuse for trying to silence their political opponents — which is what this was all about anyway.

    Shameless

  • Guillome

    Nobody thinks you guys are going to be quiet. Carry on.

  • Michael PS

    Politics has aleays been a dangerous game.

    It was the great statesman and diplomatist, Tallyrand, who described the art of government as “postponing, by a thousand subterfuges, the moment when the people hang you from the nearest lamp-post.”

    Tallyrand was also a Catholic bishop.

  • Dan Deeny

    Cord Hamrick,
    Thank you for your comments. I was born and raised a Catholic and am a practicing Catholic now, albeit a very sinful one.
    Just this morning I thought maybe Dr. Boettner’s book is a parody of anti-Catholic writing. But that isn’t so, unfortunately. He seems to be a sort of white Protestant version of Louis Farrakhan or of Fr. Pfleger. In one section he says the Catholic Church tries to make Catholic women into spineless drudges. Where did he get that? Dr. Boettner was a German-American farmboy from northwestern Missouri. Those people are pretty well grounded. What happened to him?
    Yes, I have read Keating’s book. Excellent. But I think it needs to be updated. Surely there must be more sophisticated anti-Catholic evangelists?
    A seminarian reading Dr. Boettner for penance! That’s a good one!

  • Kevin

    when increasing numbers of people harbor the attitude that those who think differently than themselves are dangerous extremists who need to be muzzled for the common good? People are so distracted by trivia and celebrity gossip that they don’t realize that the alternative to allowing people to express ideas they dislike is probably civil war. I have even had coworkers –who describe themselves as liberal– tell me without embarrassment that democracy is unworkable because the masses are stupid and we need to be led by an elite (i.e. those who think like them). I’ve been told that America is a theocracy simply because the Christians are still allowed to have a say. This is the sort of thinking and rhetoric that I worry will lead directly to violence, either in the streets or as a zero-sum political game where one side gains enough power to the police power of the state to start rounding up those on the other side. Depending on which side is on which end, the Newspaper of Record might or might not have a problem with it.

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