The current cries for civility are paradoxically relevant — and President Obama showed wisdom when he drove to the heart of the matter in his eloquent speech in Tuscon.
Mounting evidence suggests Jared Loughner heard only voices from his tortured soul before he allegedly launched the recent Arizona killing spree. He followed no political party or movement or recognizable political philosophy. His phantoms dictated his “politics,” if that term can be used. That’s strangely disappointing. Devastating assassinations and assassination attempts beg for more: Part of us wants an international conspiracy behind Lee Harvey Oswald; please, give us a complex syndicate supporting James Earl Ray. It’s so disproportionate otherwise: A single, mentally-besieged individual changing the course of history? No. Can’t be.
Alas, it can. John Hinckley, Jr., was trying to impress actress Jodi Foster when he shot President Reagan and wounded several others. He was making no policy statement.
And we know that. We’ve read the books. We’ve seen the PBS specials. Assassins almost always wander Hinckley’s world, which is why the sudden blame-game was uncivil and tasteless in itself: such-and-such a leader ”may” have fed Jared Loughner’s psyche through his or her incivility. “May,” however common-sensical it seems, often does not correspond to ”is.” Civil argumentation resists the supposedly “natural” urge to vent and waits for genuine facts. Indeed, civility in itself is a restraint on what we call ”the natural.” Perhaps the uncivil atmosphere contributed to another crime — the vandalizing of US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ office a few months — but, apparently, not to this one.
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