It didn't take long after the Tucson massacre for the American Right to retreat to its favorite default position: victimhood.
Initially, there seemed to be some hope of reflection in the face of Saturday's horror, which left six people dead and Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords grievously wounded with a bullet through her brain.
A map showing crosshairs on Giffords's and 19 other Democratic congressional districts was pulled from a Web site of ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who also issued a statement of condolences to the families of the dead and the wounded. But Palin stopped short of accepting any blame for stoking the fiery rhetoric which has fed the anger and incipient violence that now envelop U.S. politics.
By Monday, however, Palin was seeing herself as one of the Tucson victims. She sent an e-mail to Glenn Beck, another right-winger who has profited from over-the-top rhetoric. He read her message on his radio show, quoting Palin as saying: "Our children will not have peace if politicos just capitalize on this to succeed in portraying anyone as inciting terror and violence."
On Wednesday, Palin went further, stating: "After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event."
She left little doubt that she was sliding into the favored position of the Right whenever its actions come under criticism: victimhood. [For details on this pattern, see Consortiumnews.com's "The Right's Dangerous "Victimhood.'"]
Palin's new statement showed no remorse for the wild accusations that she has tossed around since she stepped onto the national political stage in 2008 as John McCain's surprise choice to be his vice presidential running mate.
Back then, she behaved like a reckless child with matches, either not comprehending the effect of her incendiary words or not caring. For instance, she blithely accused Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," a false charge that riled up the Republican base and confronted the Secret Service with a rash of death threats against the black presidential candidate.
After Obama was elected president, Palin kept up her outrageous rhetoric, accusing him of planning "death panels" for elderly and impaired Americans, including possibly her youngest son who has Down's Syndrome. She also has made a habit of using gun metaphors to rally her followers, such as telling them "don't retreat, reload" " after the health-care law passed.
In her Wednesday statement, Palin still did not seem willing to reflect on the harm that violent rhetoric can inflict on a democratic society, especially one like the United States where prominent leaders have been struck down by assassins. Instead, she defended her verbal assaults as something of a civic duty, even as she condemned any criticism of herself.
"Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions," Palin said, denouncing "media and pundits" who "should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."
Clearly, any moment for possible self-reflection had passed. The national concern over violent rhetoric had just become another opportunity for the Right to rile up its base.
A Troubling Pattern
While it's true that some Democrats and elements of the Left have engaged in irresponsible rhetoric in recent decades too, the fact is that the Right and the Republicans " at least since the emergence of Newt Gingrich in the late 1970s " have led the way in ratcheting up political anger as a conscious technique to demonize "lib-rhuls" and other partisan enemies.
Aided by a powerhouse right-wing media -- and propaganda experts who give advice on the most inflammatory word choices -- Gingrich's strategy succeeded. Republicans have held the White House for 20 of the past 30 years and -- under Gingrich's guidance -- drove the Democrats into congressional minorities by the mid-1990s.
The demonizing of "lib-rhul" Americans also has not been just the work of a few crazies on the far-right fringe. It has been a deliberate tactic undertaken by prominent Republicans who systematically have challenged the patriotism of their fellow Americans.