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Tucson rampage wasn't about politics

Posted: January 14, 2011 4:21 p.m.
Updated: January 17, 2011 5:00 a.m.

The shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people, including a federal judge, and put many in the hospital, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is a tragedy.

From everything I have read to date, Jared Loughner’s rampage was the result of a sick mind.

It was not -- I repeat, not -- about politics.

It was not a chance for politicians or pundits to score points. It wasn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It wasn’t about Sarah Palin or even President Barack Obama.

It was about the victims.

It was about the dead: U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63; Gabe Zimmerman, 30, Gifford’s director of community outreach; Dorwin Stoddard, 76, a pastor; Dorothy Muray, 76, whose husband was wounded in the shooting; Phyllis Scheck, 79, a great-grandmother; and a little 9-year-old girl named Christina Greene.

It is about Murray’s husband and the others still recovering from their wounds.

It is about the heroes who stopped Loughner from killing or hurting anyone else: Bill Badger, a 74-year-old retired Army colonel; Joe Zamudio, 24, who was buying cigarettes inside the Safeway where the shooting took place; Patricia Maisch, 61, who was standing in line waiting to meet Giffords; Roger Salzgeber, also waiting to meet Giffords; and Daniel Hernandez, 20, one of Giffords’ interns.

Badger, despite being shot in the back of the head, managed to tackle Loughner.  One of the others -- it’s unclear who -- struck Loughner in the back of the head with a folding chair, allowing Badger and Zamudio to tackle him. Maisch reportedly grabbed a second magazine of bullets Loughner was trying to load. Salzgeber sat on the suspect.

Meanwhile, Hernandez, Giffords’ intern for only five days, is said to have run toward his new boss after seeing her go down and applied pressure to her head wound, something many reports say saved her life.

And, yes, the shooting is also about the woman he saved, Rep. Giffords -- as a person. Not a politician, but a survivor.

For whatever reason, Loughner, as the Washington Post put it, “latched onto (Giffords) ... she became a symbol of the system that he blamed for turning a bright, seemingly functional child into a frustrated, lonely, angry and frightening man.”

But the Post and others reporting on the tragedy have all noted that Loughner had “lost any clear sense of the line between real life and dreams or fantasy.”

That tells me that Loughner was not really different from John Hinckley Jr., who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan back in 1981, or even Mark David Chapman, who successfully murdered John Lennon a few months earlier.

Whatever may have been in Loughner’s mind, it can likely be classified as obsession, motivated by mental illness and not political statement.

This is why I have sadly shaken my head in the days since the shooting over most of the words that have followed.

First of all, let’s recognize that former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was all but forced into saying anything. Almost immediately after the shootings, there were those on the left wondering why she wasn’t immediately speaking out against the violence. There were those claiming her rhetoric, and that of other far-right leaning politicos, was to blame for Loughner singling out Giffords.

My bet is, even in the absence of what I consider words that inappropriately incite on the right, Loughner would have done what he did.

On the other hand, I wish Palin had simply stayed out of it. Just because she was a V.P. contender and might run for president in 2012 doesn’t mean she is someone who must talk about anything. Quite frankly, I would have just as soon ignored her, but for one phrase she picked up on.

“Blood libel.” Palin wasn’t the first to use it last week in connection with the shooting, although many seem to be bludgeoning us with thinking so.

For someone who was brought up Jewish, the use of the phrase offended me. Using it to attack those on the left who had blamed her brand of speech-making was just wrong. Those who used it, including Palin, did so at the worst time. When these particular conservatives could have said things that would have aided in the healing process, they chose to continue a divisive rancor that will make it harder for me, as a voter and citizen, to take them seriously.

Almost immediately after the shooting, Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blamed the “vitriol” in today’s politics and said Loughner’s particular mental illness made him more susceptible to “overheated messages.”

Maybe so, but that is no better an argument than Palin’s.

That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with his basic message: that this kind of talk has got to stop.

The rampage in Tucson may not be about politics, but the response to it can rise above politics.

That’s why President Obama not only had to memorialize the dead, express hope for the survivors and praise the heroes, he had to say “it’s important for us to pause a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

The victims, both dead and living, he said, are part of our greater American family.

It’s not that we need to be more civil in order to stop the Jared Loughners of the world.

It is that reaching that civility will make us better Americans and, thus, honor the fallen.

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