Of course I am speaking of the Tucson assassination, but also of the private sadness of eulogizing a friend this weekend. And of the loss of a church member, and the third sadness of a member who lost her romantic partner.
We're not good at sadness in America. This is the land of opportunity, optimism, freedom and other happy things. We have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness, as it says in the Declaration of Independence. But when sadness does come, and it must as night follows the day, we Americans have no vessel for holding it, no confidence in its meaning. That's why when there is a Tucson and a Twin Towers and an Oklahoma City, and a Waco, we look for the quick fix that will end our confusion and sadness.
For example. We are hearing that wing rhetoric caused it. Sorry. It did not. The assassin (I hate the word 'shooter,' something plucked from police dramas) was clearly unstable. Ted Kascinski and David Koresh were also unstable, and their crimes did not flow from the sewer of hate radio. Does that mean right wing rhetoric is innocent? No. It may not be the cause or the inspiration of particular crimes, but it clearly intends to influence people or it would not be on the air and in the papers.
The sin of right wing rhetoric (and I limit myself to the right because left wing rhetoric is a vastly smaller voice in the national media and thus far less audible) is demonizing. It is a worldview that is itself unstable, or rather, seeks to address the sense of instability it sees in the world by sorting goats and sheep, labelling people and parties and religions as wholly good or wholly evil.
By labelling political ideas it does not share as evil, and those who hold them as evil, it legitimates a Manichean world in which my ideas are right and good. I am right and good. Those who differ are wrong and bad.
Why this stark dualism is prospering has many reasons, including the sense of a world far more turbulent and unfamiliar than one remembers, but another one that no one mentions is that it pays.
The media industry reaps money by attracting listeners and viewers and readers. Manichean rhetoric works, which is why the pundit industry reacted to Tucson just as it did. Its dean, Rush Limbaugh, has declared "seeking to connect the shooting with radio talk shows — which are dominated by conservatives — was part of a Democratic strategy. 'It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril,' Mr. Limbaugh said. (Everything fits in the Manichean worldview, and even when something challenges that world it is taken as proof that there it isdemonic and conspiratorial.) That Mr. Limbaugh and others like him are lavishly paid is never considered as a motive for their opinions.
He and his Manichean friends are political prostitutes. They say what they do because it pays them (in money or influence or both).
Jesus never earned a shekel for his work. Nor Moses. Muhammed had a day job. So did St. Paul. As I remember, Mr. Limbaugh promised to leave the country if health care legislation passed. It did. He didn't. So much for principle when it has a cost.