Summary: The Loughner Killings is not about politics but about mental health.
Are there political lessons to be learned from Saturday’s tragic shootings in Tucson? The talk show pundits on both the left and right would have us believe that the other side’s hyper-partisanship has been the catalyst for a growing vehemence and hatred that led to the terrible violence by one deranged killer. Are there underlying causes to explain this shocking event that can be directed towards either side of the political spectrum? Many talk show hosts would have you believe so. But killings tragically happen, and birds fall from the sky. And often, the cause is not political.
Two tragedies took place last week. A highly unstable punk kid did have some political misgivings. But they were not influenced nor directed from viewpoints on the left or the right. On the Internet, he ranted about government thought control, and how the country should return to the gold standard – hardly partisan issues. Few of us trust the government’s involvement in our personal lives, but almost none of us reacts with violence. No, the cause of this tragedy in Tucson appears to be exclusively the shooter’s internal demons.
The news media that claim neutrality had no problem inflaming the debate all this week by assuming there was a political angle to the shooter’s actions. What part of the political spectrum was Jared Lee Loughner coming from? He just had to have an agenda we were continually told.
Some said the attack was linked to the bull’s eye directed at some twenty democratic congressmen including last week’s victim, Rep. Gabriele Giffords. The popular political website, The Daily Kos wrote: “Mission Accomplished, Sarah Palin.” How unfair and offensive were both the comments and the bull’s eye. It was tasteless on both sides. News commentary has become segmented by political philosophy and as such it has become shamelessly irresponsible.
Conservative columnist David Brooks pointed out, these “were vicious charges made by people who claimed to be criticizing viciousness. We have a news media market in which the rewards go to anybody who can stroke the audience’s pleasure buttons.”
There is a great deal of anger in the country now. I hear it each week on my national radio show as callers vent from coast to coast across the political spectrum. And they vent with justification. A recent survey by the Pew research Center found there is “a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust in government — a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”
Members of Congress are the most accessible branch of our national government and like it or not, they represent symbolically what many voters see as an out-of-control and out-of-touch federal government. Most constituents are just plain angry. But in the mix, there are a few who are deranged, and in them, the anger that most of us keep under control, explodes in violence.
In our democracy, any nut case can walk into a town hall meeting and confront their representative or senator face to face – and Congresswoman Giffords was always having small meetings in grocery stores and other retail establishments and this made her vulnerable to the walking time bomb, Jared Loughner.
Despite what pundits on both the left and the right continue to pontificate, Jared Loughner had no political agenda. Jared Loughner’s actions were driven by the psychotic delusions of his mental illness. He could not protect himself from his demons inside, and our society could not protect those slaughtered last week from his deadly outbursts.
There can be a link between derangement and politics. Jared Loughner lives in the epicenter of hatred, resentment — all distorted by what seems to be an extreme mental illness. He is not alone in this country. In a book by research psychiatrist E. Fuller Torrey called “The Insanity Offense,” he concludes that some one per cent of seriously mentally ill in this country, some 40,000 people, are violent. Fuller says they account for about half the rampage murders in the United States.
Yet a number of states, including my home state of Louisiana, are proposing deep cuts in mental health treatments. Of particular concern are disturbed inmates who are soon to be released, but who have been given little treatment for their unstable condition. There is a low priority in this country for aggressively providing treatment to the mentally ill who are becoming increasingly disruptive. How do you stop such individuals from owning guns? What are the standards for involuntary treatment? Many tough questions need to be addressed.
Jared Loughner posted his favorite books on his YouTube page. Their general and similar themes centered on government stripping an individual of their own free thinking. “Animal Farm,” “Brave New World, “Mein Kampf,” and “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” to name a few. But the book on Loughner’s list that summed him up best was Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“He was out of his mind,” said Atticus. “Don’t like to contradict you, Mr. Finch-wasn’t crazy, mean as hell. Low-down skunk with enough liquor in him to make him brave enough to kill children.” I don’t know about the liquor. But Harper Lee got it right in regard to Jared Loughner. He has to be both crazy and mean as hell. The polarizing ideology here is not on the left or right. It’s in the jumbled mix of a ground up dysfunctional character and conscience in the psychotic mind of Jared Loughner.
A larger question is what will happen after all the political hysteria dies down? Can we as a country do more to prepare for another day when one of our communities is thrust into a confrontation of disorder, cruelty and horror? The answer is that there is a way. Whether or not there is a will; that is the question.
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.