Commentary: Both conservatives and liberals need to lay off
SAN DIEGO -- Being liberal means never having to say you're sorry.
Not when you, with Machiavellian flair, cheapen the attempted assassination of a congresswoman, the killing of six bystanders and the wounding of 13 others by seizing it as an opportunity to smear a rival and discredit a movement without a shred of evidence to back it up.
And not when you respond to the unraveling of your case by walking back the claim in favor of the new argument that the would-be assassin isn't a right-wing hit man but a troubled soul -- which is, no doubt, true but was just as true when the left was busy assigning the shooter a political motive for its own benefit.
Within hours of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and others in Tucson, left-wing bloggers, columnists and cable hosts were pinning the blame on Sarah Palin, talk radio and the tea party movement in the hopes of discrediting all of the above.
Angry liberals pointed to the fact that Palin, in March 2010, "targeted" 20 congressional districts, including Giffords', for GOP takeover at the ballot box. The Tucson Democrat's district was put on the list because she had voted for the Obama administration's health care reform bill.
But Palin targeted districts, not individual candidates. That wasn't the case with an article on the far-left website The Daily Kos from June 2008. It mentioned Giffords by name and put her on a "target list" of conservative Blue Dog Democrats that "sold out the Constitution" by capitulating to Republicans.
This attack is important because it illustrates one of the two main reasons that the preferred media narrative of a liberal public servant attacked by a right-wing fanatic didn't fit from the start.
First, Giffords is no cookie-cutter liberal Democrat. She supported health care reform but without the public option that the left considered a deal breaker. And she has been a supporter of gun rights, a champion for border security and a defender of the motivations behind Arizona's controversial immigration law. In fact, in a statement last July after a federal judge gutted the measure, Giffords said the law "was passed because (Arizonans) were fed up with years of federal inaction and neglect." This is not how most liberals talk about the Arizona law. You hear this kind of nonsense from the right, not the left.
And second, the alleged gunman, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, might not be conservative enough to suit the script. After the shooting, Caitie Parker, who said she knows Loughner from high school and college, tweeted: "He was a political radical & met Giffords once before in '07, asked her a question & he told me she was 'stupid & unintelligent.'" She later added in another tweet, "As I knew him, he was left wing, quite liberal."
Unfortunately, Parker's first-hand impressions of Loughner disrupted the liberal media's template of who did what and why. And, after a few bad experiences in which she claims reporters twisted her words, the young woman says she isn't giving any more interviews.
This is not to say that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik didn't have a good point when he said recently that Arizona has "become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry." He did. Having lived in Arizona during the 1990s, I can tell you that Dupnik is correct about the state's mood. Elected officials can either clamp down on this divisiveness when it appears or they can let it run free. In Arizona, too many local, state and federal lawmakers have chosen to take the path of least resistance and do the latter.
But note that Dupnik's comments were about the overall mood in the state and not about what specifically might have motivated Loughner who, it may yet turn out, is a blank slate with no political leanings one way or another.
Just in case the slate isn't blank, both liberals and conservatives are busy playing the new parlor game: "He's not one of ours. He must be one of yours." Neither camp wants to claim this troubled young man. Who can blame them?
However, what people on both sides of the aisle need to distance themselves from is the hateful rhetoric and personal attacks that are poisoning political discourse in this country. The poison has already infected Arizona.
Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.