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Do Obama and Voters Have Blood on their Hands?

Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer

Most analysis of the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona has focused on hate-filled, right-wing rhetoric as the impetus for the gunman’s act of violence. The news turned yesterday to President Barack Obama’s appearance at a memorial service for the shooting victims.

There is irony in Obama’s speech because, in our view, he helped set the stage for the tragedy in Tucson. The president undoubtedly did not intend for blood to be shed at a political event. But his limp response to Republican lawlessness during the George W. Bush administration–plus voters’ endorsement of a right-wing agenda in the 2010 midterm elections–helped create the toxic environment that led to the Giffords shooting.

The underlying causes of Jared Loughner’s shooting spree go beyond ugly right-wing rhetoric. They also include ugly right-wing actions during the previous administration. Obama essentially has excused those actions, and many voters have more or less approved them by putting one house of Congress back in GOP hands. In our view, that means the president and large chunks of the voting public share in the blame for Saturday’s bloodshed.

Are we going too far? Well, consider that one of Obama’s first acts after being elected president–before he had even taken office–was to announce that he was going to take a “look forward, not backwards” approach to the apparent crimes of officials in the Bush administration. This gave Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Bush himself (among others) a free pass for torture, warrantless wiretapping, political prosecutions, the unlawful firings of U.S. attorneys, and other wrongs–not to mention taking the country to war in Iraq on bogus grounds.

Here is something Mrs. Schnauzer and I have learned in our roughly 10-year battle against corrupt lawyers and judges, who have mostly been Republicans: The modern conservative movement features a significant number of adult bullies. And the last thing you want to do when dealing with bullies, of any age, is to embolden them.

Adult bullies, after all, are just overgrown children who are overdue for a good spanking. But how did Obama handle the Bush crowd? He said, in so many words, “We’re not going to hold you accountable for your lying, stealing, cheating, and other abhorrent acts. We’re going to overlook it and move ‘forward.'”

A bully will take advantage of that approach every time. If you tell a bully it’s OK to punch somebody . . . well, you had better be prepared to duck. And innocent people, who aren’t aware of the need to duck, are likely to get hurt.

Ever since Obama took office, conservative bullies have come out punching with a litany of outrageous and inflammatory rhetoric. People like Jared Loughner were listening–and noticing that the nasty approach worked.

Obama is not the only one who helped set the stage for tragedy. In the November 2010 midterm elections, voters went to the polls and rewarded conservatives for their corrupt actions and ugly words. They turned the U.S. House of Representatives over to the GOP and cut deeply into the Democrats’ advantage in the Senate. In Alabama, Republicans took over the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

The message from voters to the GOP? “You’ve committed criminal acts, run our economy off a cliff, damaged our credibility in the international community, coarsened our national discourse–and we think that’s great! Keep up the good work!”

No wonder some Republicans thought they could engage in all kinds of incendiary rhetoric and get away with it.

We don’t know what thought process, if any, that Jared Loughner employed in the days leading up to the shootings in Tucson. But imagine the possible thinking of an unstable, but semi-rational individual with access to a gun and a score to settle. “Hey, the president said Rove, Cheney, Dubya, and the gang were going to receive a “get out of jail free” card–and their policies led to the deaths of thousands. Heck, I should get a free pass for bumping off a dozen or so folks in Tucson–no problem.”

Obama said all the right things at last night’s memorial. He’s good at that kind of thing. “There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts,” Obama said. “But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight.”

You are right about that, Mr. President. But many in the nation also hope that you will finally grow a spine. Instead of trying to build a trumped-up criminal case against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange–who is trying to shine light on wrongdoing–how about going after Karl Rove and others who are behind much of that wrongdoing? Where are your priorities, and how badly are they out of whack?

As far as we know right now, Jared Loughner alone planned and executed these shootings. But a growing chorus of voices is saying that our toxic political environment contributed to the tragedy.

I would take it one step farther. It might be convenient to lay all the blame on Sarah Palin and other tea-party types. But we think there is enough blame to go around. And some of it should land at the feet of a president–and a large block of voters–who have enabled bad actors in the conservative movement.

The modern Republican Party already was dysfunctional–and we have failed to deal with it. We should not be surprised when some conservative acolytes graduate to violence.

Obama’s acquiescence to GOP thuggery has come home to roost–and some people’s lives will never be the same.

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