Somebody once told me that my essays sound like editorials by which I think he meant that they were measured, sound, and reassuringly dull. I suppose I’d rather have a reputation for daring, but you can’t escape your nature. Character is destiny, as Heraclitus pronounced long ago; or, to put it another way, even though an excruciatingly gradual vengeance would be the most terrible, no superhero is ever going to be named the Sloth. My thoughts are doomed, apparently, to drag their arthritic coils laboriously behind the gravity of my purposes. Might as well advertise this effect as dignity. Anyhow, there may be times when it is appropriate to take your time.
When Gabrielle Gifford was shot in Tucson last week, a great many people, myself included, instantly wondered if somebody had finally been inspired to action by Beck, Limbaugh, Palin, and the rest, though I at least and I expect most of the others were also perfectly aware that we simply didn’t know. When it turned out the perpetrator’s motives were thoroughly psychotic, the assumption that right-wing paranoia was at fault was criticized even though it was surely, if silently shared at the time by most Republicans who must have felt they had dodged a bullet—nobody, right or left or center, is going to be surprised if Teabaggery eventually results in violence, after all. Thing is, what’s at stake in all this is not the impropriety of jumping to conclusions and engaging in a scholastic debate about the effect of the rhetorical environment on the behavior of paranoid schizophrenics is similarly irrelevant to what lies beneath the public debate. It is simply this: the scandal that it takes a multiple murder to get anybody to notice how screamingly pathological our politics has become. The crazy narratives retailed on Fox may indeed have nothing to do with one guy in Arizona, but they are extraordinarily crazy nevertheless. What does it take for the political nation (if there is such a thing) to respond to the fact that a large part of the population has convinced itself that the government is run by a Marxist/socialist/fascist/Nazi/atheist/narco/muslim/terrorist Antichrist?
Come to think of it, that last bit didn’t sound that much like the New York Times.