The year 2011 was born with the mark of Cain. Last week, Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan‘s largest state, Punjab, was gunned down by his own bodyguard, as the rest of his handpicked guards looked on. His killer, a Muslim fanatic, was greeted with showers of rose petals thrown by lawyers, and the victim’s corpse was left unblessed by local clerics, who praised his killer. Taseer was murdered for questioning that nation’s archaic blasphemy law, which — if “justice” proceeds — will lead to the beheading of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, for defending her faith to Muslim neighbors.
New Year’s Eve saw the murder of 22 Coptic Christians in Alexandria, when a church was bombed by jihadists, and subsequent threats against Copts in countries as far-flung as Germany and Australia. In Mexico, where civic order has collapsed in large swathes of the country under pressure from drug cartels, 51 people were killed — and 11 of them beheaded — in a single weekend.
As Americans, we give thanks to God and to the wisdom and prudence of our ancestors who crafted our system of government that we have been comparatively free for most of our history from political violence and religious persecution. Things like that aren’t supposed to happen here. Maybe we’ve gotten spoiled, or imagined ourselves immune — and that’s why we’re still fascinated, decades later, by outrages like the murder of President John F. Kennedy.
This week, America prays for the recovery of another public servant, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was gunned down along with 13 others (six of whom died), on January 8. We are even more appalled at political attacks than at ordinary crimes, because assassinations attack the community as a whole, and our free system of government. When you target an elected official, you are rejecting our civic order. You are choosing to tear up the fragile web of peaceful coexistence that keeps us safe, that subjects our differences, however fierce, to the stern tribunal of reason. If anyone merits the death penalty, it is political assassins, whatever their stripe, since their crime boils down to treason.
Fittingly, members of both political parties have stopped the business of government, and put aside the serious issues over which they differ, to mourn this assault on our civic peace by Jared Lee Loughner, a flag-burning, drug-using, mentally deranged young man with no coherent political views — who has recently shaved his head to look like Uncle Fester.
There have been exceptions. Some political activists are trying to take crass advantage of this assault on a liberal Democratic congresswoman to pretend that the attack was somehow motivated, prepared for, sparked, or otherwise caused by the heated political rhetoric of the last congressional election. Yes, Sarah Palin put a crosshair over the district where the congresswoman served, to mark it as a seat that Tea Partiers should target. So some try to tar Palin with blame for the murders. Libertarians defend gun rights and claim that they love their country but fear their government. Some leftists try to lump them in with bomb-throwing anarchists, of the sort who are blowing up consulates in Italy.
Liberals eager to blunt the effectiveness of the newly elected pro-life, conservative majority in the House are trying to turn these sickening murders into an occasion for national soul-searching — as if robust political speech aimed at Democrats can now be seen in retrospect as hate speech. As the London Daily Telegraph reported, after these killings, “Markos Moulitsas, founder of a liberal blog, the Daily Kos, tweeted: ‘Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin.'” Canada’s National Post quoted Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin along the same lines: “The [Palin] phrase ‘Don’t retreat, reload,’ putting crosshairs on congressional districts as targets, these sorts of things, I think, invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response.” Palin is so outraged at such hysterical accusations that she just released a video statement that they amount to a “blood libel.”
It’s ironic, as Byron York of the Washington Examiner pointed out, that when a loudly evangelical Muslim shot up a U.S. army base in Ft. Hood, Texas, screaming Islamic slogans as he shot to death 13 Americans, there was a universal chorus across the media insisting we not “jump to conclusions” about his motive. Since this recent attack, reporters in the New York Times and elsewhere have been bobbing like pogo sticks, jumping to every possible explanation for this killing that would entail the political Right. When the eco-terrorist Unabomber was caught, there was no such witch hunt aimed at environmentalist groups. When an animal-rights activist murdered Dutch politician Pym Fortyn, no soul-searching was required of opponents of animal testing. Of course, those situations are not remotely parallel, since no one has established that Loughner was even politically opposed to the victim Representative Giffords, much less that he was motivated by Republican campaign rhetoric.
Let me tell a story of another political killer, one who had very coherent views and acted on them ruthlessly as part of a tight-knit terrorist conspiracy. In 1969, radical leftist William Ayers formed and led the Weather Underground, which was aimed at sparking violent revolution in the United States and establishing a Marxist “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Coordinating his activities with Communist Cuba and North Vietnam (where his associates went to meet with fellow travelers), the Weathermen sparked riots, used slogans like “Kill the Pigs!,” blew up public monuments, blew up army recruiting offices, blew up police stations (killing one policeman, blinding another), and ultimately blew up much of their membership when their homemade bombs went off. Interviewed in 2000, long after he got out of jail and wangled tenure as a professor of education at the University of Illinois, Ayers reflected on his activities: “I don’t regret setting bombs . . . . I feel we didn’t do enough.”
One person Ayers did plenty for was the young politician Barack Obama. As historian Paul Kengor of Grove City College documents in Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, Obama sought out Ayers’s help and friendship in 1995, when he was starting off in Chicago politics. An early fundraising meeting for Obama was held in Ayers’s home. Ayers (along with fellow terrorist Bernadine Dohrn, a Charles Manson fan) were among Obama’s earliest donors. Kengor writes: “As even the New York Times conceded, it was there, at the Ayers-Dohrn home, that ‘State Senator Alice J. Palmer, who planned to run for Congress, introduced Mr. Obama to a few Democratic friends as her chosen successor.’” Obama continued to associate with Ayers, subsequently serving alongside him on a corporate board.
Obama’s willingness to cooperate with unrepentant Marxist terrorists should not, perhaps, have shocked anyone — since, as he recounts in his two (count ’em, two) political autobiographies, his mentor through young adulthood, whom he still admires, was the Communist party operative Frank Marshall Davis. Coyly, Obama called him only “Frank,” but Kengor tracked down his full name, and in Dupes he lays out in sobering detail Davis’s lockstep adherence to Communist Party discipline, including his opposition to the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, and the uprisings of oppressed peoples from Hungary to Czechoslovakia.
It is at least mildly bracing to think that our president formed himself intellectually under the tutelage of a Communist Party hack and got his political start with the help of unrepentant political terrorists. Indeed, as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer document in The Post-American Presidency, Obama grew up in a radical-chic milieu of disaffected and often anti-American activists — and was educated during his formative years in an Indonesian Muslim school, where he was enrolled in the classes for Muslim students. His much-touted conversion to Christianity took place through the auspices of Rev. Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright, a prominent liberation theologian.
The media “cleared” Obama of any blame for his intellectual love affair with a Stalinist stooge, his devotion to Reverend Wright, and his cozy connection to a convicted terrorist bomber. But today, Tea Party activists are being guilted by free association with random lunatic Jared Lee Loughner. Imagine if, 20 years from now, Loughner were free, and tenured, and influential in right-wing politics. Imagine that some young conservative– say, Duncan Paul, Rand Paul’s son — befriended Loughner and used his home for a political fundraiser, which launched Paul on a career that finally led him to the White House. Imagine that Duncan Paul’s childhood mentor turned out to be a fundamentalist Christian theocrat. Imagine that it emerged he worshipped at a radical right-wing, racialist church. President Duncan Paul would be pretty careful what he said about the connections between political rhetoric and terrorism. No wonder President Obama is choosing his words so cautiously. If only his allies in Congress and the media likewise realized what a glass house he inhabits.