For several days after the Tucson massacre and the grievous wounding of Rep. Giffords, the airwaves and some of the mainstream media -- in particular the New York Times -- were filled with evidence-free but poisonous accusations that conservative "rhetoric" was the underlying cause. Paul Krugman of the Times was a particularly vicious, but unfortunately not a lonely, source of this sort of thing.
In the days since, it has become clear that political debate, whether heated or not, and whether coming from conservatives or not, had zip to do with the shootings. This revelation has had the healthy effect of quite visibly putting the lie to the left's Smear Machine. A reliably liberal op-ed columnist for the Times, Charles Blow, now commendably admits what's been going on, even while conspicuously declining to single out Krugman by name. As Blow notes,
Immediately after the news broke, the air became thick with conjecture, speculation and innuendo. There was a giddy, almost punch-drunk excitement on the left. The prophecy had been fulfilled: "words have consequences." And now, the right's rhetorical chickens had finally come home to roost. ****
Within hours of the shooting, there was a full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right....
The only problem is that there was no evidence then, and even now, that overheated rhetoric from the right had anything to do with the shooting. (In fact, a couple of people who said they knew him have described him as either apolitical or "quite liberal.") The picture emerging is of a sad and lonely soul slowly, and publicly, slipping into insanity.
Kent has quoted Charles Krauthammer as observing that Jared Loughner's behavior is probably explained by schizophrenia in some form, and wondering what Krugman's excuse is. My suggestion is simple. Hate -- indeed precisely the kind of hate Krugman falsely attributes to those with the temerity to disagree with him.
If this dreadful episode has any good side, this is it: It has fully pulled back the curtain on liberal McCarthyism.