The roots of Tucson

While Rush Limbaugh and his cohorts continue to vigorously deny it, the Tucson shootings were a political crime. The target was a Democratic congressperson, not a Republican or a random authority figure. She is also Jewish, female and a previous victim of political violence. In the racist, hate-filled atmosphere of Arizona politics, her right-wing extremist opponent in the November election had called on supporters to bring M-16 rifles to one of his campaign rallies.

The violence in Tucson is also not an isolated incident. According to the last figures issued by the FBI, there were 8,336 victims of hate crimes committed by 6,225 people in 2009. The victims in these statistics were overwhelmingly African-Americans, Hispanics and other minorities, immigrants, Jews, Muslims or people thought to be Muslims, gays and lesbians and people with disabilities. Not included were many others such as abortion providers, Democratic office holders and government agencies.

Some victims have also been safety officers, including the security guard at the Holocaust museum, the police officers in Pittsburgh who faced an anti-Obama fanatic and the California highway patrolmen injured in a shootout with a man egged on by Glenn Beck’s ravings against the Tides Foundation.

The perpetrators of nearly all these crimes, which come to some 10,000 yearly nationwide, are not Muslim terrorists or leftists. They are overwhelmingly white males motivated by racism and right-wing extremism. That is a fact of life that no amount of denial by Limbaugh and company can hide.

In the aftermath of Tucson there is a healthy discussion about mental health services, gun control and political civility. But to deal with the problem it is necessary to go further and identify and expose its cause. The Department of Homeland Security attempted to do this in a report on the rise of right-wing extremism issued in April 2009, but instead of a congressional investigation, the report was shouted down by the Republicans and Fox News.

Since the 1930s the Republican Party has been the main party of the rich and big business. Since the 1960s and, especially since President Nixon’s Southern Strategy, it has been the party of racism. Now, in the more recent period and especially since the election of President Obama, it has also become the party of right-wing extremism, including extremist violence.

The Tucson attack has taken some wind out of the GOP sails. The Republicans were forced to postpone the vote to repeal the health care reform and support for repeal has plummeted, including among Republican voters. The Republicans in the House have been left holding the bag, while support for the reform has risen. Honest policy differences were never the motivation in any case. The repeal effort has mainly been driven by hatred for the nation’s first African-American president. Health care reform was to be his “Waterloo” and repeal or sabotage of the bill is part of the GOP’s prime goal of destroying his presidency and preventing his re-election.

But there are signs the tide has turned. Tucson has opened a lot of eyes. Obama’s handling of the attack has won high marks, while the ultra-right’s mascot candidate, Sarah Palin, has suffered a huge setback.

Obama made an inspiring speech at the memorial service in Tucson, but his warning not to point fingers or assign blame should not be used to dampen criticism of the danger of right-wing extremism. To do that would be a grave disservice to the victims.

Yes, there must be greater unity and civility. Yes, there must be more support for mental health programs. Yes, there must be far stricter gun control.

But there must also be recognition that it is right-wing extremism that opposes all these things, that it constitutes the main danger to the safety and security of the people, to their economic wellbeing and their democratic rights. The best way to honor the victims of Tucson and prevent a similar occurrence is to soundly defeat the Republicans in 2012.

Image: Andrew Ressa // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Rick Nagin
Rick Nagin

Rick Nagin has written for People's World and its predecessors since 1970. He has been active for many years in Cleveland politics and the labor movement.