Periscope Depth

even if the sky is falling down

Not that you asked, but here’s three things I think about the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords (D, AZ) this past Saturday.

1. This has a better chance of softening political rhetoric than anything else would be likely to. Not because of the horror of the event, but because a member of Congress was targeted. Members of Congress are fine with the “don’t retreat; reload” rhetoric most of the time. It excites the radical fringe, getting the paranoids on both the right (“we can’t let this country be taken over by THEM!”) and left (“we can’t let this country be taken over by … THEM!”) to vote in record numbers. But if actual Congresspersons are put in danger? Back the truck up.

2. No, Sarah Palin did not actually want Gabrielle Giffords, or any of the other 20 Democrats in predominantly Red states, dead*. And based on the suspected shooter’s YouTube rants, it’s not (yet) clear that he was taking a page from Tea Party rhetoric. Maybe he was taking notes from the DailyKos blogger who posted a “diary” on Thursday that Giffords “is now DEAD to me”**. But he very likely did it for the reasons crazy people do a lot of things: to get his craziness taken seriously by authority figures (cops, the FBI, news media, etc).

That being said, if pundits stopped referring to a President who would have run to the right of Eisenhower as a “socialist,” it might prevent these sort of misunderstandings.

3. Why isn’t Jared Loughner in Guantanamo Bay? He attempted to assassinate a member of Congress. He committed an act of terrorism on American soil. He kept quiet about “persons of interest” (not even accomplices, just people who were seen near Loughner near the time of the event). Sure, he’s an American citizen, but that’s no bar to the State Department ordering your assassination or exiling you from the country without a trial. There are men in Guantanamo Bay who have been imprisoned there for years with a weaker connection to terrorism than Loughner. Yet Loughner’s been charged with a crime and is going to receive that 20th-century anachronism, a trial.

Why is that? What distinguishes Loughner, a nutcase who might have been inspired to commit an act of terrorism by the rhetoric of ideologues, from the other suspects in Gitmo? What does he have that most of them don’t? I feel like it’s something really obvious – like it’s staring me in my white, scruffy face – but I can’t quite lay a finger on it.

* Though she probably wouldn’t have wept if Giffords had died in a plane crash; and were it one of our ideological opponents, which of us could say different?

** Who has since issued an apology. It’s weak and self-pitying, but I don’t expect much of a DailyKos contributor anyway, and it still puts him one up on former Opposition Party Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.