Letter to International Herald Tribune

Edward G. Nilges
Lamma Island
Hong Kong
11 Jan 2011

To whom it may concern:

In David Brooks’ “The Politicized Mind” (IHT 11 Jan 2011), Brooks writes that Jared Loughner, the accused mass murderer in Tucson, was less a right-wing political “actor” and more a violent schizophrenic. It’s certainly clear that Loughner was not a political actor, any more than Lee Harvey Oswald was an agent of the right-wing culture of the John Birch Society that conducted venomous campaigns against JFK eerily similar to those of the Tea Bag against Obama.

Oswald (according to Vincent Bugliosi, who’s written a magisterial study on the JFK assassination, Reclaiming History) acted alone and narrated his life using first pro-Soviet and then pro-Castro themes. Nonetheless Oswald acted in a culture in which the right was sending, not only specific right-wing messages (the Federal government was ridden with Communists) but also specific meta-messages (if you believe something, it is your American right and duty to take up arms in defense of freedom). Meanwhile, the liberals and left wingers of that day were all committed to peaceful means for change, from Adlai Stevenson to the original “Port Huron Statement” SDS.

Obama talks dialogue: even centrist Republicans refuse to dialogue, and Republicans farther to the right, most infamously Sarah Palin, use gunsights on Web pages.

But neither Oswald nor Loughner were political actors in any grown-up sense. Oswald’s handlers in the Soviet Union soon realized he was useless, which caused him to look to Cuba’s variant of socialism for friends, of which he seems to have been in need. Loughner’s isolation and chaos are a cry for help that went ignored in an Arizona which has contempt for “losers”.

But the real problem is sociological and political, not a matter of individual psychology as Brooks seems to believe. It is that politicians are not in the habit of refusing votes.

Barry Goldwater made a serious run for the Presidency in which his “base” included extremists of the right. Today’s Republicans, including its “responsible” insiders and not just Palin, need a base at least partly composed of toxic people, just as bankers securitized toxic bonds in the mortgage crisis. And the ravings of their more toxic leaders (and followers as amplified on the Web) have an even wider effect.

They send the message to the Oswalds, the McVeighs, the Loughners that it’s quite all right to use violence to get what you want. They send the message to the crazies that “liberals” (by whom they seem to mean people with high SAT scores that do not beat their wives), the glamorous people, can and should be mown down by unknown men.

The bankers sought to make a fortune by selling mortgages to unknown people and the toxic mess exploded. One hopes that one, and only one, positive outcome of the Tucson tragedy might be the implosion of the Tea Bag movement.

Brooks’ cure is Orwellian, for in practice it would involve the (mostly automated) surveillance of people who read books often assigned in high school after dropping out and who wonder online if words mean anything. I read great whacking books and I believe that there is a link between politics and grammar. Cops and psychiatrists of the sort who work for the cops aren’t qualified to make distinctions between a Jared Loughner and a Stanley Fish.

Of course, in our legal system, disruptive or disturbing words posted online must in all cases be accompanied by disruptive or disturbing behavior. But this is also in the eye of the beholder, specifically the overworked and stressed out cop that’s had it up to here at the end of his shift.

JFK’s assassination was in fact followed by no sociological self-examination. Even in the more benign context of the times, to do so would have been to question America’s sacred egotism. The result was fifty years of these repeated shocks.

Edward G. Nilges

Boris Artzybasheff, “The Big Mouth and the Big Ears”


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