Rush Limbaugh perfected the standard defensive strategy for Rabid Right pundits: the best defense is a good offense. His premise that the mainstream media is left-leaning and unreliable inoculates him from any form of criticism, so he chooses not to address any challenges from that quarter. Facts can be ignored once you have denied any credibility to all those who might dare to challenge you. Instead, you can re-characterize such challenges as unfair and as further evidence that the rest of the world is out to get you.
A fair amount of soul-searching seems to be going on in the aftermath of the assassination attempt on U.S. Congresswoman Giffords. Many stories have considered whether this event might be tied to the increasing rancor of public debate in our society. There is always, however, a strong disclaimer that there is no evidence that the perpetrator was in fact influenced by the angry rhetoric on the right or left.
The mere suggestion that public words might have dire consequences has inspired much defense in the form of offense from those on the right who have a history of using “fighting words.” Rush Limbaugh accused the Democratic Party (Giffords is a Democrat) of “attempting to find anybody but [the shooter] to blame.” Sarah Palin, who put cross-hairs on Giffords on a website graphic, has followed Limbaugh’s lead in her reaction to this tragedy. She expresses sadness about “irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame.”
Their reaction is pretty standard. Never is there a hint of misgivings or remorse. In their culture, such things would be a sign of weakness. Always is there a paranoid sense that the rest of the world is against them, and they are innocent victims of widespread attack. Never is there an engagement of points made by others. Always is there a cult-like foundation of distrust of outsiders.
This time their argument rests on a debatable issue: they consider the only real sin to be personal sin. Collective sin, on the other hand is the notion that things we do may contribute to evils of the world that do not have a personal author. An example of my own might be how by buying a discounted piece of clothing I support a system of exploitation of workers in foreign lands.
Clearly the assassination attempt is not a classic example of collective sin because there was an easily identifiable perpetrator. However, those who ignore collective sins generally deny any responsibility for the way they influence others to do evil. Limbaugh attacks those who suspect his rantings may have influenced Jared Lee Loughner. He accuses them of trying to provide cover for Loughner’s crime. In Palin’s video she quotes the role-model of the Rabid Right: Ronald Reagan. She quotes, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.”
My role-model, Jesus of Nazareth said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Mat 7:5, ESV). I believe that one should always be cautious about feeling like one is so innocent compared to others. Yes, I believe what the shooter did was a terrible thing. But I think we should not be so quick to assume our own innocence.
Palin seems to interpret Reagan’s words to suggest that society never has any guilt when any law is broken. Merely asking the question about whether crimes of individuals might point to larger problems in society puts her on the attack. Rather than being “irresponsible”, as Palin claims, isn’t such reflection the responsible thing for any society to do?
Furthermore, if Palin and Limbaugh want to apply Reagan’s adage fairly, then why is it okay for the entire society of Afghanistan to be punished for the actions of the lawbreakers on 9/11? I think the answer is that for them it is not really about principles at all; it is really about finding a good offense, any offense to respond to ideas that might put them on the defensive.