Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the rightwing's murky landscape...,

NYTimes | When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”

But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.

Nine years after Kennedy was killed, George Wallace embarked on his second campaign for the presidency. This was the early 1970s, the high tide of far-left violence — the era of the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the Symbionese Liberation Army — and Wallace’s race-baiting politics made him an obvious target for protests. On his final, fateful day of campaigning, he faced a barrage of coins, oranges, rocks and tomatoes, amid shouts of “remember Selma!” and “Hitler for vice president!”

But Arthur Bremer, who shot Wallace that afternoon, paralyzing him from the waist down, had only a tenuous connection to left-wing politics. He didn’t care much about Wallace’s views on race: he just wanted to assassinate somebody (Richard Nixon had been his original target), as “a statement of my manhood for the world to see.”

It’s possible that Jared Lee Loughner, the young man behind Saturday’s rampage in Tucson, will have a more direct connection to partisan politics than an earlier generation’s gunmen did. Indeed, many observers seem to be taking a kind of comfort from that possibility: there’s been a rush to declare this tragedy a teachable moment — an opportunity for people to cool their rhetoric, abandon their anger, and renounce the kind of martial imagery that inspired Sarah Palin’s PAC to place a target over Gabrielle Giffords’s district just months before Loughner gunned down the Arizona congresswoman.

But chances are that Loughner’s motives will prove as irreducibly complex as those of most of his predecessors in assassination. Violence in American politics tends to bubble up from a world that’s far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue — a murky landscape where worldviews get cobbled together from a host of baroque conspiracy theories, and where the line between ideological extremism and mental illness gets blurry fast.