In the midst of this sublime and terrible storm [at Sidmouth, England], Dame Partington, who lived upon the beach, was seen at the door of her house with mop and pattens, trundling her mop, squeezing out the sea-water, and vigorously pushing away the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic was roused; Mrs. Partington’s spirit was up. But I need not tell you that the contest was unequal; the Atlantic Ocean beat Mrs. Partington. — The Rev. Sydney Smith (1771-1845)
Today, I feel like Mrs. Partington, with the Leftist chattering classes standing in as the angry Atlantic. You see, sadly, the real story about the shooting in Tucson isn’t the shooting at all. The shooting — if you’ll pardon me for saying this in the face of a tragedy that took so many innocent lives and left a vibrant young woman, mother and Congressperson fighting her way back to neurological health — was a garden-variety act of madness.
Loughner’s writings and videos show that, although high functioning, he was almost certainly a paranoid schizophrenic. In the Middle Ages, he would have been communing closely with God or the Devil, with a broom and black cat at his side. In the 1950s, he would have raved about fluoride and Martians, all while nattily attired in a tin foil hat.
In our day, Loughner’s madness saw him seeking bizarre meanings in numbers and word patterns; revering books of antisemitism, violence and collectivism (Mein Kampf; The Communist Manifesto; Clockwork Orange); and gravitating towards fringe groups and ideas. Most importantly, in a day and age when the famous are, collectively, our Gods, Devils and Martians, he did what John Hinckley, Mark Chapman, Arthur Richard Jackson, and Robert John Bardo did — he fixated on a celebrity, in this case a Blue Dog Dem, stalked her, and ultimately shot her, along with a large number of bystanders. Nothing new here, although each insanely inspired act of violence carries with it its own share of grief and despair and, too, bravery and hope.
Looking beyond the tragically ordinary mass murder, one discovers the actual story here: the chattering class’s instant, concerted, deliberate effort to use a routine tragedy to destroy an American political party. Facts were irrelevant: Loughner’s manifest insanity and his Left wing affiliations were irrelevant. What went out instantly, over the airways and the internet, through formal outlets and social networks, was a meme: American conservatives, especially Sarah Palin, were guilty — guilty because they used the word “target,” or perhaps “cross hairs,” or even “reload” in their political discourse. In a two party system, the chatters claimed, one of the parties was, by its very existence, an incitement to violence.
The speed with which this meme took hold was staggering. Within one day, 50% of the liberals on my “real” facebook account were shrilly decrying “hate speech” and Sarah Palin, with many adding loving quotations from Keith (“worst person in the world”) Olbermann on the virtues of peaceful political discourse. Pushback in the form of a reality check — Obama is especially adept at violent political imagery; Democrats love cross hair and target advertising; the violence in speech has actually declined since Leftist insanity against George Bush — was all irrelevant. As my live-in liberal proudly informed me, Sarah Palin’s career is now dead in the water. The facts don’t matter, he added; it’s enough that she’s been irremediably smeared.
We’ve seen this kind of thing before, of course. The Nazis were masters of this type of smear politics; as were the Communists; as were the Tsarist Russians. In other word, wherever you have totalitarianism, whether it’s theocratic, aristocratic, oligarchic or socialist (or some -ist or -ic I haven’t thought of), the first thing that happens is the corruption of facts and ideas, which often reaches its apex with deliberate efforts to twist common tragedies in order to smear political opponents.
My hope is that this time, for the first time in history, the presence of alternative media will prevent the ferocity of the falsehoods from taking root. Never before have the totalitarian chattering classes had to cope with truly free speech. They meme; we anti-meme. They lie; we trumpet the truth. They smear; we focus on core facts and preserve our ethics and dignity.
I started with a quotation from a great enlightenment thinker, Sydney Smith. He charmingly recognized the futility of trying to sweep back an overwhelming force. Maybe this time, though, rather than challenging the mighty Atlantic, we may discover that we’re facing the last fetid emanations from a draining swamp — and our efforts at sweep-back will prevail.