Ethics & Public Policy Center

The Cynicism and Intellectual Corruption of the Left

Published in Commentary Magazine on January 10, 2011



You would have to be living on another planet not to be aware of the effort by some on the left and in the media to blame conservatives for creating a “climate of hate” that encouraged a suspect, Jared Loughner, to attempt the political assassination of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, which resulted in the death of six people and the wounding of 13 others.

This crusade is being led by the New York Times, whose front-page story on Sunday said this:

While the exact motivations of the suspect in the shootings remained unclear, an Internet site tied to the man, Jared Lee Loughner, contained antigovernment ramblings. And regardless of what led to the episode, it quickly focused attention on the degree to which inflammatory language, threats and implicit instigations to violence have become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture.

Note these seven words: “regardless of what led to the episode.”

These words matter, because there is no evidence that we know of that “inflammatory language” that has “become a steady undercurrent in the nation’s political culture” drove Loughner to pull the trigger. What is becoming increasingly clear is that the man accused of the massacre, Mr. Loughner, has a twisted, disturbed, and violent mind. That is almost certainly why he committed his malevolent act. Listening to WABC in the afternoon had nothing to do with it.

Yet this doesn’t appear to matter much at all to those on the left. They are determined to draw some deeper meaning — and some political advantage — from this tragedy. They want to libel conservatism. As Jonathan noted on Sunday, George Packer of the New Yorker, in a post revealingly titled “It Doesn’t Matter Why He Did It,” described Loughner as “a delusional young man whose inner political landscape is a swamp of dystopian novels, left- and right-wing tracts, conspiracy theories, and contempt for his fellow human beings.” But Packer goes on to write this:

the tragedy wouldn’t change this basic fact: for the past two years, many conservative leaders, activists, and media figures have made a habit of trying to delegitimize their political opponents. Not just arguing against their opponents, but doing everything possible to turn them into enemies of the country and cast them out beyond the pale. Instead of “soft on defense,” one routinely hears the words “treason” and “traitor.” The President isn’t a big-government liberal — he’s a socialist who wants to impose tyranny. He’s also, according to a minority of Republicans, including elected officials, an impostor.

This borders on being a non sequitur because, even if you allow for Packer’s tendentious and one-sided version of events (he willfully ignores liberals who routinely demonize those on the right), what conservatives said in the past two years doesn’t appear to have any bearing on what Loughner is accused of doing. Yet Packer admits this is, for him, beside the point. “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point,” according to Packer. “Whatever drove Jared Lee Loughner, America’s political frequencies are full of violent static.”

Think about the formulation for a moment: “The massacre in Tucson is, in a sense, irrelevant to the important point.” The important point isn’t the dead or the wounded; it’s Fox News, Sarah Palin, and conservative talk radio. Blaming conservatives, you see, is the storyline Packer, the New York Times, and scores of other liberal commentators have settled on. They have decided on their narrative; inconvenient facts — also known as reality — cannot get in the way of their crusade.

This is all very postmodern, a simplistic version of deconstructionism. What is on display is a cast of mind in which facts and reality are secondary to storylines and narratives. The aim is not truth; it is to advance The Cause. It is also about cynical exploitation. As one veteran Democratic operative told Politico, the Obama White House needs to “deftly pin this on the tea partiers” just as “the Clinton White House deftly pinned the Oklahoma City bombing on the militia and anti-government people” in 1995.

It is all quite sick, really. Not a few liberals are attempting to use a human tragedy to advance an ideological agenda. They are using dead and broken bodies as political pawns. The blood was still flowing from the gunshot wounds of slain and wounded people in Tucson as liberals began an extraordinary and instantaneous smear campaign. It will end up making our political discourse even more angry and toxic.

I was naïve enough to be surprised at what has unfolded in the last 48 hours. The cynicism and intellectual corruption on the left is deeper than I imagined.

Lesson learned.

Peter Wehner is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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