“I don’t understand how anybody can b held responsible for somebody who is completely mentally unstable like this. . . . People actually accuse Governor Palin of this. It’s appalling—appalling. I can’t actually express how disgusting that is.” This from Rebecca Mansour, a Palin adviser. “She then add that the crosshairs were not those of a gun sight but a reference to “surveyors symbols.”
Now I get it: the rallies of those waving guns and defending the second amendment were really referring to the right to own a surveyors level. The comment is like a bad comedy show when someone is caught saying something like “I hate father” they say “I hate to go farther.”
No one believes this. I suspect not even Ms. Mansour.
Jared Loughner probably is mentally unstable; he may have no political motivation; he may have no accomplices. The courts will sort this out. But even if all these facts turn out to be true, that doesn’t eliminate the vitriolic and incendiary climate in which the killings took place.
It is inconsistent to place great stress on individual responsibility (you’re poor, that’s your fault for not working hard enough), then accept none for the language you use. From an ethical point of view, it is worse than inconsistent: it is a lie. The purveyors of the language of incitement know what they are doing. They want to reap the benefits of the politics of resentment. But they won’t accept the actions that such a climate promotes.
No leader can be responsible for the behavior of all their followers. There are also people on the edges of sanity who do horrible things. But it is another to use language and symbols that egg on violence, then claim no responsibility when violence ensues.