Within minutes of the revelation that Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona had been shot while attending a public event in Tucson, political partisans and their media counterparts began to assign blame for the tragedy to the supposedly dangerous rhetoric fomented by Tea Party groups and their ideological brethren. Although without facts in hand, partisans were unable to restrain themselves from leaping to conclusions that ostensibly validated their preconceived notions of cause and effect. Sadly, this attempt at politicizing a tragedy is not without precedent within the American political landscape.
Paul Krugman, the indefatigable lodestar for a generation of liberals, immediately chimed in on the tragedy, writing in the New York Times, “You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc. and the violence I fear we’re going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it’s long past time for the GOP’s leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.”
Krugman, who within hours of the shooting and certainly without a deep understanding of the perpetrator or his motives, assigned blame for the tragedy on the rhetoric of “hate-mongers” like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. While such an irresponsible assignment of blame is unsurprising coming from the keystrokes of a liberal stalwart such as Krugman, it is nonetheless a contemporary example of the lamentable attempt to politicize and capitalize on tragedy.
Unfortunately, such episodes have affected the public discourse for centuries, and in fact were present during the nation’s first encounter with an assassination attempt and its aftermath.
On January 30, 1835, while exiting the United States Capitol after having attended the funeral of South Carolina Rep. Warren Davis, President Andrew Jackson became the first sitting president to have suffered an attempt on his life.