Extremist rhetoric isn’t what’s ruining the republic, not really.
Muddled thinking, pat partisan narratives and an utter lack of charity are what ail us. That, and some hefty double standards.
Until 11 a.m. Wednesday, sizable segments of the commentariat and political classes were in high dudgeon over the “irresponsible,” “extreme,” “dehumanizing” and “terror-inciting” language of pro-life conservatives. The day after Thanksgiving, an unhinged loner with a gun walked into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and opened fire, killing three people and wounding nine others.
Soon after police took Robert Dear into custody, he muttered something half-coherently about “no more baby parts,” and suddenly every pro-lifer in America was implicated in the atrocity. “Words matter,” Huffington Post’s Jessica Valenti wrote, without any evident self-awareness. “When we dehumanize people ... we make it easier for others to do them harm.”
Just so. Earlier, on Twitter, Valenti had posted that she stood with Planned Parenthood because it provides abortions, which “are moral.” Dehumanization, it seems, depends on your ideological point of view.
In the first couple of confusing hours following the mass murder at Inland Services Center in San Bernardino on Wednesday, some commentators tried to stick with the anti-conservative narrative. Markos Moulitsas, proprietor of the left-wing Daily Kos, jumped on Twitter to say “Yo, GOP, kinda hard to talk about ‘keeping people safe’ when your peeps are shooting up America.”
Extreme, wouldn’t you say?
Bloomberg News and the Huffington Post’s Sam Stein both went out of their way to note that the shootings occurred 1.3 miles from a Planned Parenthood clinic. “CNN, however, is reporting that the shooting didn’t take place there,” Stein added, as if it were somehow enlightening or useful in any way other than to draw a nonexistent parallel to an earlier event.
As I said, not extreme, just blinkered.
The blood hadn’t even dried on the conference room floor before the Democracy for America PAC sent an email blast exploiting the murders to raise money. “When Paul Ryan and the entire Republican Party refuse to stand up to the NRA and the gun industry and pass common sense gun reforms – as they did once again just yesterday – they are aiding and abetting those terrorists. Period.”
Certainly that qualifies as extreme – and craven and blatantly false. Just because certain elected leaders do not agree with your policy preferences, that doesn’t mean they’re aiding and abetting terrorists. Shouldn’t that go without saying?
But events fall apart. The narrative cannot hold.
In a blink of an eye, we went from outrage to silence, then caution and prudence. It looks like terrorism, but we cannot possibly know a motive. We mustn’t generalize now.
As it happened, I knew Syed Farook’s name shortly after noon Wednesday – and so did anybody else who was listening to the San Bernardino Police Department’s radio band as the manhunt for the shooters was underway. He was being treated as a “person of interest” after a witness reported one of the gunmen had a similar height and build as a county employee who left the room abruptly a few minutes before the shooting started.
I quickly found a record of Farook in the state employee database indicating he was a county health department employee. I posted updates on my Facebook timeline throughout much of Wednesday afternoon. Just straight facts; no conjecture.
But I held back Farook’s name until there was official confirmation. Some of my conservative social media friends weren’t so scrupulous. What happened next was as predictable as the knee-jerk left-liberal reaction earlier in the day.
By Thursday, we had a much better idea of what Farook and his bride-accomplice Tashfeen Malik were up to. The FBI says Farook traveled to Saudi Arabia and had regular email contact with at least one suspected foreign jihadi. The pair had dozens of pipe bombs and thousands of rounds of ammunition. It’s safe to say this was no mere act of “workplace violence.”
But it’s hard to see at this point how rational discussion is even possible after events such as this. It’s coming down to banning guns, banning Muslims, banning disfavored speech or some combination of the three. Persuasion is passé. Understanding your opponents? Maybe when the war is over.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.