By Mary Katharine Ham
Friday, June 23, 2017
James T. Hodgkinson of Belleville, Illinois arrived in a D.C. suburb several months ago and lived out of his van next to a small local baseball field, which had recently been reported as the site of Republican congressional baseball practice. He took pictures of this otherwise unremarkable locale, and showed up there last Wednesday with two guns and a list of six elected Republicans on his person. He verified with a member of Congress that they were indeed Republicans on the field before opening fire, attempting to murder a bunch of them.
A week later, one of the victims, Rep. Steve Scalise, had been smeared by one national media figure and told his wound was “self-inflicted” by a nightly news anchor while he was still in the hospital fighting for his life. Republicans had been scolded for not changing their views on the Second Amendment in response to being attacked, and national media had either moved on from the story or moved on to scolding Republicans for their reaction to it.
Rep. Mo Brooks faced the question about his Second Amendment views just minutes after someone literally tried to murder him. Can we take a moment to think about how utterly crass this is? Imagine an abortion bomber blowing up a Planned Parenthood grand opening in Washington DC, injuring members of Congress in attendance. Then imagine most national news coverage including this question for their colleagues who escaped maiming: “Shouldn’t you probably consider changing your views on abortion? Maybe pass some common-sense limits on it?”
Yet Brooks offered a competent, calm civics class on the subject to anyone who was willing to listen.
Media Doesn’t Want to Talk About What Really Happened
National media covered the incident voraciously for several hours, but within a day, most had moved on to another leak in the Russia story. Less than 48 hours after a multiple assassination attempt on members of Congress, there were no media vans or cameras at the Alexandria baseball field where it occurred. Just for perspective, when Republican staffer Elizabeth Lauten committed the offense of writing something critical of President Obama’s daughters on her private Facebook page, news cameras were camped on her parents’ lawn staking her out for the better part of a week.
When the press was covering the shooting, it was mostly a gauzy, imprecise discussion of how “rhetoric” might have caused it, which means we’re in the business of determining whose rhetoric to stifle to prevent further violence. Wouldn’t you know it? The answer was… Donald Trump’s rhetoric, which has the magical power to compel a Bernie volunteer to shoot a long-time Trump-supporting Republican. Way to go on the narrative assist, there, Rep. Mark Sanford.
The New York Times went so far as to repeat a long-debunked lie blaming Sarah Palin’s political speech for the wholly unrelated shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords in an attempt to make Republicans culpable in a scenario in which Republicans were shot. All of its fact-checkers were presumably engaged in checking the statements of Republicans blaming Democratic rhetoric for the shooting, because those are their priorities. (For what it’s worth, I’ve been on record for a long time about how it’s unwise to conflate political speech with violence in a country that values free speech.)
Let’s Talk about How the Victims Responded, Instead
Less than a week after the shooting, there was a high-profile House election in Georgia—the most expensive House race in history. The Republican candidate Karen Handel had been specifically named by Hodgkinson in one of his anti-Republican Facebook rants. When I say named, I mean he called her a “shit” then exhorted his followers to “Vote Blue!” This tidbit got only the briefest of mentions outside local news, as did the threatening letters containing white powder Handel and her neighbors received days before the election. The powder turned out to be non-toxic.
Hodgkinson’s attempted massacre was not part of media coverage of GA-6 despite his act of intimidation having clear implications there. Targeting a specific population for its beliefs usually has a secondary consequence—to cow the members of the community the murderer didn’t succeed in killing. Would Republican voters be intimidated into staying home or emboldened by this attack on elected Republicans? It seems like an interesting question in a special election where turnout is important and unpredictable, yet it was rarely if ever discussed.
Instead, the only time the shooting came up in national media coverage of GA-6 was when an outside group ran a small, ham-handed ad tying Democratic rhetoric to the shooting. The ad was promptly, rightly denounced by Handel, but the scolding coverage of the ad went on for a day. My, how quickly we move in the news cycle from Republicans literally shot to Republican overreach about Republicans being literally shot.
Handel’s win thanks to the turnout of Republicans could and should have been celebrated as a defiant stand by free citizens in the face of an attack meant to scare them out of engaging in democracy. Exercising your right to vote then celebrating an electoral victory are very healthy ways to defy a gunman who tried to kill people who share your beliefs.
Instead, in the wake of Handel’s solid win, which snatched the #Resistance’s longed-for victory, Washington Post writer Dave Weigel scolded Republicans for “dunking” on Democrats despite everyone’s one-day indulgence of “come together” rhetoric, as if four hours of praise-hands emoji and super-hot memes on Twitter is part of the “climate of hate.”
In our hypothetical above about an attack on elected officials at Planned Parenthood, imagine a loudly pro-choice candidate winning an important, high-profile victory less than a week later and the news media tsk-tsking Emily’s List for celebrating that win.
Conservatives Can’t Be Victims Even When They’re Shot
Finally, to cap the week, the FBI offered a bizarre assessment of the shooting that ignored the plain significance of all of the established facts of the case to declare it a “spontaneous” attack with “no target.” What perverse standards. A Republican congressman is fighting for his life in a hospital thanks to a partisan attacker, but let’s examine on national TV several times over how he kind of had it coming because of his politics.
Republicans literally had guns held to their heads, so they should renounce their rights to armed self-defense?
Republicans were victims of a multiple assassination attempt, and it warrants half the coverage of the assassination attempt on a Democrat six years earlier?
Republicans were shot by a partisan political adversary, so they should be careful how much they celebrate electoral wins?
It all revealed once again the overweening cultural hubris of the American Left, which has been in control of so many institutions and the prevailing political narrative for so long, it can’t conceive of Republicans as victims even when they’re being shot. Many of them are cultural bullies convinced of their righteousness, and as Reid did, they’ll kick you when you’re down after being shot on a baseball field. Why, it’s enough to drive you to hire a giant, coarse, shameless bully of your own and make him president.
When you look at it that way, it’s not at all surprising that Handel beat newcomer Jon Osoff, who didn’t live in the district, but showed up to it with cargo planes full of cash from San Francisco. Democrats hadn’t paid attention to this district for years, so their moneyed, white-knight act was bad enough. But in the context of the shooting of Republicans that very week, the aftermath of which showed media and the Left indulging in some of their very worst tendencies, it was utterly preposterous.
Voters have been telling pollsters since Trump was elected: Sure, we don’t love him, but we love Democrats less. When it comes to the crucial in- or out-of-touch metric, Trump and Republicans have been seen as more in touch with the problems of average Americans than Democrats have.
The behavior of many on the Left and in elite institutions this week sent a message, very loud and clear, that not only do they not “get” the other half of the country; they don’t want to. They’re not only out of touch; they think the rest of you are untouchables.
Feminist writer Jill Filipovic’s Twitter thread exemplified the extreme, though not terribly uncommon, version of this sentiment after Osoff’s loss.
Republicans released a draft bill of the Senate version of their health-care reform efforts Thursday. Liberal darling Sen. Elizabeth Warren declared, “I’ve read the Republican ‘health care’ bill. This is blood money. They’re paying for tax cuts with American lives.”
You want to go that route while one of your colleagues is still in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound? Go for it, but don’t be surprised when it doesn’t play in Peoria.