A horrible tragedy in Arizona today. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat in the House of Representatives representing the eighth district, was shot in the head outside a supermarket in Tuscon at close range. Seventeen others were shot as well, six of them killed, including one child. Giffords was originally reported to be dead, but later it was reported she survived, and it appears she will recover. There is already rampant speculation about who is responsible: perhaps a febrile Tea Party sympathizer (Sarah Palin and others targeted Giffords as a traitor on the health care bill), or a member of a drug cartel (Giffords is outspoken on drug enforcement) or an anti-immigration activist (Giffords was reportedly soft on Arizona's new racist immigration bill). A lot of liberals are already blaming the overheated and sometimes militaristic rhetoric on the right, including Palin's, for the shooting. (An immigration judge was shot as well.)
I think this is a big mistake. It's too early to make pronouncements about who is responsible. And even if it were a Tea Party activist, liberals ought to be more thoughtful in their response. Not all Republicans or even Tea Party activists are responsible for one act of violence, any more than all Muslims were responsible for 9/11. There is no legal basis for saying Palin or Beck (who sometimes had Giffords on his show) ever made actual violent threats or encouraged violence as a means to score political ends. The rhetoric of right wingers like Beck and Palin is sick, perverted, fetishistic, often full of categorically wrong facts and, if you throw in Rush Limbaugh's windbaggery as well, even cryptically racist, too, but not criminal.
Giffords is a smart public servant who doesn't toe any party line really as far as I can tell. She's for gun rights and for immigration reform. It seems, if anything, she's dedicated herself to being open minded. So I don't see her as a right wing bete noire or Democratic mealy mouther either. It would be sad if she left us. And for many reasons, including her all-important life, I'm not in a hurry to make her a left-wing martyr this afternoon.