Updated at 6:00 p.m. on January 10.
Conservatives are pushing back hard against charges that their tough talk against Democratic politicians may have incited the violence in Tucson, Ariz., this weekend, signaling that any rhetorical truce in the wake of the shooting spree that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others may be short-lived.
On his show on Monday afternoon, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh charged that critics' goal was "shutting down conservative media, shutting down all political opposition."
A number of lawmakers and commentators are making the link between the vitriolic rhetoric of the last campaign and the violence in Tucson. "We've grown accustomed to phrases like 'Second-Amendment solutions' and 'don't retreat, reload,' that to twisted minds may incite violent acts," said Bob Edgar, a former Democratic congressman who now heads Common Cause.
Limbaugh said today's criticism of the Right is similar to that directed at him after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. He accused political liberals of trying to leverage tragedy to limit freedom of speech.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody in the Obama regime, some FCC bureaucrat... has already written up legislation to stifle conservative speech," said Limbaugh. "Every time an event like this happens, they get into a trial run in hopes that they succeed in shutting us down. They can’t beat us, we still have the Constitution. They can’t beat us, so they’ll do anything they can do to shut us down."
The Tea Party Express also went on the offensive. In a press release, the group called media coverage "outrageous" and claimed that liberals sought to silence them. "This was all an effort to try and demean us and diminish support for the tea party movement, since the Left could not beat us at the ballot box," said the release. "Their hypocrisy and double standards are appalling."
Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, said he agreed with Limbaugh and the tea party in this instance. "I was struck by the immediacy with which some pundits, reporters, and Democratic officials pounced on the tragedy to make it a political one without any facts or evidence and blamed the opposite party," said Fleischer. He added that while he is "not a fan" of Sarah Palin, he argued that blaming her debases the conversation and discredits those who are making the charge. "It’s offensive when a tragedy like this takes place for others to say we have blood on our hands," he said.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, took a different view, arguing that Limbaugh and his allies are hurting their own case. "They’re reacting from a defensive posture, which is always ill-advised," Jamieson said. "What the move does is draws attention to the rhetoric they’d like to distance themselves from."
Even so, right-wing bloggers and columnists also jumped on suggestions that vitriolic rhetoric from the tea party and Sarah Palin may have influenced the alleged killer's ideology. Some highlights:
- Michelle Malkin, blogger and Fox News contributor: "The Tucson massacre ghouls who are now trying to criminalize conservatism have forced our hand. They need to be reminded. You need to be reminded. Confront them. Don’t be cowed into silence. And don’t let the media whitewash the sins of the hypocritical Left in their naked attempt to suppress the law-abiding, constitutionally protected, peaceful, vigorous political speech of the Right."
- Chris Horner, American Spectator: "Sure enough, it was in the early 1995 aftermath of the Dems' 1994 electoral shellacking -- mere days after President Bill Clinton felt compelled to insist that he was still relevant -- that the establishment media and others in the professional Left seized upon the loon's violence du jour, Oklahoma City, to claim it was the product of hateful anti-government rhetoric in the airwaves... Remember that in coming days. This is their move. It's what they do."
- Glenn Harlan Reynolds of Pajamas Media, in the Wall Street Journal: "To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the 'rhetoric' of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the 'rhetoric' and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?"
- S.E. Cupp, New York Daily News:"If the assassination attempts on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge, a 9-year-old child and other innocents weren't tragic and horrific enough, what followed from the liberal media added serious insult to fatal injury. The rush to link the psychopath and alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner to the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, which began mere minutes after the shootings, reflected a total unraveling of the liberal media. When the vicious and irresponsible postmortems began, the folks piling on didn't even have the shooter's identity, much less his motive."
- Byron York, Washington Examiner: "There is no 'overt' or any other sort of connection between Loughner and Palin. If such evidence came to light, it would certainly be news. But without that evidence, and after a brief caveat, the CNN group went back to discussing the theory that Loughner acted out of rage inspired by Palin and other Republicans. Conclusions were jumped to all around."
Lindsey Boerma contributed contributed to this article.