It has become an unfortunate characteristic of America’s 24/7, go-go culture. Our attention spans a fraction of what it used to be. We demand immediate and easily digestible answers.
But sometimes there aren’t any.
On Saturday, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, was holding a meet and greet at a Tucson, Ariz., supermarket parking lot. It was a typical "get out in the community" gathering that politicians often schedule.
As her constituents lined up to speak with the congresswoman, a young man entered the small crowd, pulled out a 9 mm Glock handgun and began shooting. He shot Rep. Giffords in the head and, witnesses said, proceeded down the line of those waiting to question her, firing indiscriminately. Only when he stopped to reload did crowd members have the opportunity to subdue him.
When it was over, Rep. Giffords was struggling for her life. Six others — including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge — were dead and 14 were wounded.
The police took 22-year-old Jared Loughner into custody. "Comments from friends and former classmates," The AP reported, "bolstered by Loughner’s own Internet postings have painted a picture of a social outcast with almost indecipherable beliefs steeped in mistrust and paranoia."
Authorities believe the gunman targeted Rep. Giffords, although they have offered no motive for the act.
Nevertheless, the finger-pointing was immediate. Talk radio, the tea party movement, rabid right-wingers, even Sarah Palin all came under attack for supposedly creating a climate of hatred that has poisoned American political discourse and given cover to those who advocate violence.
But can we slow down for a moment?
In fact, it’s highly debatable that today’s political rhetoric is any more "poisonous" or "overheated" than when the Federalists in 1828 called Andrew Jackson’s wife a "dirty black wench" and a "convicted adulteress" and said she was prone to "open and notorious lewdness."
Besides, singling out the adherents of an entire grass-roots political movement — one that has done little so far other than to peacefully exercise its rights of assembly and franchise — for the acts of a lunatic is both irrational and unfair.
Instead let’s put the blame where it belongs: On a lone, mentally ill young man whose own dementia led him to that Tucson Safeway.
Our prayers go out to Rep. Giffords, all those killed or injured in this horrific massacre and their families. They didn’t deserve their fate.