Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mr. Reasonable Conservative on the Arizona Killings

One can always count on David Brooks to provide the "reasonable" conservative response to any issue. He typically points out the excesses of the left and the right and then he puts a stake in the ground for a middle right position. His response to the Arizona killings matches this pattern. He asserts that pundits on the left have blamed Sarah Palin and others for the killings. He then performs a psychiatric examination of the killer and argues that he is one of 40,000 mentally ill individuals who are responsible for 50% of rampage murder in the US. Therefore, politics, inadequate gun control, and an atmosphere of inflammatory political news coverage on talk radio and cable news had nothing to do with the killings.

First of all, there has been lots of criticism of the rhetoric on talk radio and cable news. Nobody, that I am aware of, blamed the media, or politicians like Palin, as directly responsible for the rampage. They argue that unbalanced individuals can be influenced by the political environment in which they live. Its hard to imagine that the language and rhetoric that permeates the media does not influence behavior. Secondly, his target was a politician. This is totally ignored by Brooks, since he wants to explain the killers actions by an appeal to an apolitical psychological diagnosis that he performed. Moreover, his diagnosis of the killer suggests that he had strong anti-government sentiments. The area of Arizona in which he lives, and the rhetoric on the right, conveys a similar anti-government sentiment.

Of course one of the anti-government slogans of the right is to support almost unlimited access to guns. Brooks says nothing about the romance of the right with guns and its fight against gun control. To do so would take away one the major talking points of the GOP in its defense of "individual liberty" against an oppressive government. To ignore this issue while he simultaneously attributes 50% of rampage murders to individuals among the 40,000 mentally ill with a potential for violence is disingenuous at best. We do not have a system that would deny access to guns for more than a handful of the 40,000 that put us at risk. Brooks is very selective about the data that he chooses to use in his analysis.

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