After the attempted car bombing in Times Square last year, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg publicly speculated that the attack had been carried out by "somebody with a political agenda that doesn't like the health-care bill or something." At the Nation, columnist Robert Dreyfuss wrote that "a member of some squirrely branch of the Tea Party, anti-government far right" was probably behind the bombing. Countless others in the left-wing blogosphere joined the "blame the Tea Party" chorus-until it was disclosed that the perpetrator of the attack was not a Tea Party supporter but a Taliban-trained Islamic radical. Whoops.
Over the weekend, the Tea Party detractors were at it again-this time blaming the movement for the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others. Within hours of the attack, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman had issued his own (admittedly) unfounded verdict: "We don't have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was . . . she's a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist." So Tea Party activists are prepared to kill those they cannot defeat at the polls?
Left-wing bloggers and commentators blamed the attack on Tea Party favorite Sarah Palin because she had "targeted" Giffords for defeat during the 2010 elections. The New York Daily News published a column headlined "Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' blood is on Sarah Palin's hands after putting cross hair over district." And an hour after Giffords was shot, Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas actually tweeted: "Mission accomplished, Sarah Palin." He conveniently failed to mention that his Daily Kos had put a "bull's eye" (their words) on Giffords in 2008-including her on a list of centrist Democrats who should be "targeted" in Democratic primaries. Mission accomplished, Markos?
Giffords's Arizona colleague, Rep. Raul Grijalva, said the Tea Party was responsible because "[When] you stoke these flames, and you go to public meetings and you scream at the elected officials, you threaten them-you make us expendable you make us part of the cannon fodder. . . . Something's going to happen." Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) echoed this sentiment, declaring, "America must not tolerate . . . inflammatory rhetoric that incites political violence." And Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blamed the attack on the "vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous." Who, exactly, is Sheriff Dupnik accusing of hatred and bigotry? And why is it acceptable to condemn vitriol in politics while contributing to it in the same breath? This is what passes for restoring civility to our nation's discourse?
What is really outrageous is how quickly so many jumped at the opportunity to politicize this tragic shooting-blaming the Tea Party and conservative political rhetoric without a shred of evidence to back those claims. Police are still investigating the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, but it is clear he is a deeply disturbed young man. He had recently been suspended by Tucson's Pima Community College until he obtained a doctor's certification that "in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others." Students had warned that he might show up in class with a gun. Loughner was rejected by the U.S. Army when he tried to enlist. In a bizarre YouTube rant, he declared: "The government is implying mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar." Government brainwashing through grammar control is not exactly a driving issue for the Tea Party. Conservatives are no more responsible for Loughner's attempted assassination of Giffords than liberals were for John Hinckley Jr.'s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.
On Sunday, the New York Times published a front-page story, "Bloodshed Puts New Focus on Vitriol in Politics." Nowhere did it mention the vitriol hurled at Tea Party activists, who are routinely derided to as "tea baggers" and racists, and now stand accused of incitement to murder. If you want an example of the lack of civility plaguing our political discourse, look no further than this weekend's shameful efforts to use this tragedy to demonize the Tea Party.
Marc A. Thiessen is a visiting fellow at AEI.