JONATHAN CHAIT JANUARY 12, 2011
Several friends have written in about my item arguing that Jared Loughner is not related to right-wing extremism. The objection, in a nutshell, is, don't you agree that right-wing rage is a serious problem?
I think it is a serious problem. I also think, despite the attempts of numerous Republicans to draw equivalences, that it's a far more serious problem than anything that occurred under George W. Bush. critics have focused on violent language and birtherism on the right. But there's a deeper radicalism hiding in plain sight. The whole nature of the Tea Party is a meta-message that legitimizes hysteria. The obsessive invocation of the Constitution suggests that Obama is not merely pursuing misguided policies but abrogating our basic rights. And the choice of Tea Party as metaphor suggests that this extraordinary abrogation of rights merits an extraordinary response, a response to a tyrant rather than a response to a duly elected presidency. The frequent signs at Tea Party rallies quoting Jeffrson about watering the tree of liberty with the blood of tyrants merely take this logic a tiny step further. Actual violence is just one more step beyond that, an application of the theory.
In short, yes, this is all extremely serious.
But the fact is that Jared Loughner does not grow even loosely out of this movement. He could just as easily have undertaken his rampage in 2008 or 1998 or 1988. And I continue to believe that entangling this incident with the broader problem of right-wing apocalypticism is intellectually problematic and practically unsound.