Ross Douthat deploys the two arguments that we’re going to see in the next few months in today’s column. The first is that it is partisan to criticize violent imagery in politics. The second is that both sides do it:
This won’t stop partisans from making hay out of Saturday’s tragedy, of course. The Democratic operative who was quoted in Politico saying that his party needs “to deftly pin this on the Tea Partiers” was just stating the obvious: after a political season rife with overheated rhetoric from conservative “revolutionaries,” the attempted murder of a Democratic congresswoman is a potential gift to liberalism.
But if overheated rhetoric and martial imagery really led inexorably to murder, then both parties would belong in the dock. (It took conservative bloggers about five minutes to come up with Democratic campaign materials that employed targets and crosshairs against Republican politicians.) When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn’t be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost.
Calling someone “partisan” carries a lot of weight among Villagers, because the savvy insiders know that partisans are caught up in unrealistic zeal and lack the reality-based worldview of the those who really know how things work. But if you strip away the veneer of respectability, “partisan” is just a sophisticated form of name-calling often deployed, ironically enough, in partisan argument. Since Douthat generally supports Republicans, he’s as partisan as anyone else, if you think that word has any bite.
“Both sides do it” is more weak sauce, since even five-year-olds can’t get that one past their mothers. Even if both sides do it, and even if they do it to the same degree (which isn’t the case here), that doesn’t make it right.
The final fallacy in these two paragraphs is the straw man that people are holding Republicans responsible for the actions of the killer in Tucson. No, they aren’t. We’re saying that the whole climate of the past couple of years stinks, and that it’s time to tone it down. The “potential gift” that Douthat references will only become an actual one if Republicans fail to dial back the hard-core hate and bullshit of the past couple of years, and that’s simply because Tucson gave the general public a glimpse of what could come from rabble rousing.
Read the whole column, because it’s a good example of a classic Douthat strategy. He hides the weakest and most reaching parts of his argument (the two paragraphs above) in a bunch of reasonable yet marginally relevant exposition.