Politicizing the Tucson tragedy not without precedent

Within minutes of the revelation that Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been shot while attending a public event in Tucson, political partisans and their media counterparts began to assign blame for the tragedy on 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

Richard Lawrence, unemployed and seemingly convinced that his and the nation’s ills could be alleviated with the death of President Jackson, appeared from behind a column and leveled a pistol at Jackson as he took his first steps from the Capitol. Lawrence pulled the trigger, point blank at the president’s chest. Misfire. A second pistol was drawn by Lawrence and he again pulled the trigger. Misfire.

By this time several individuals descended upon Lawrence and he was taken into custody, not before President Jackson himself applied a cursory blow to the assailant’s head.

The aftermath of Lawrence’s assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson was rife with speculation that the assassin was motivated by politics. Surely Jackson’s political opponents were somehow behind the effort to take his life, the president’s allies maintained. 

These accusations compelled many of Jackson’s political opponents to publicly maintain their innocence. Senator John C. Calhoun famously denied his involvement in the affair while speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate. 

Alas, it wasn’t politics that motivated Lawrence to attempt to kill Jackson. Richard Lawrence was deemed insane and spent the remainder of his days confined to an asylum, undoubtedly tormented by the inner demons that compelled his delusional aggression toward Jackson.  

The reprehension inherent in hastily seeking to politicize the assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson was summarily described in the Farmers’ Cabinet, a contemporary newspaper. Shortly after the assassination attempt the paper remarked, “And it is to be regretted that, while it is evidently the work of a miserable maniac, there should be manifested a disposition to ascribe it to party influence on either side. This shameless effrontery with which this is done by some editors and letter-writers, shows to what desperate lengths such unprincipled partisans will carry their recreant feelings in order to prejudice the people, before they become acquainted with the facts, against their opponents, without a shadow of reason or truth.”

176 years later we are still afflicted by the “desperate lengths” to which some “unprincipled partisans” will go in order to “prejudice the people...without a shadow of reason or truth.” 

Article originally appeared at NewsRealBlog