The shootings in Tucson dominated the news over the weekend. It was one of those times when we could feel that as a nation we all were pulling as one for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others wounded in the attack and also mourning the loss of life. A federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, who had been born on 9/11, are among the dead. It is almost too sad to contemplate.

But I can’t help being angry that the shootings are being used politically. One of my friends (a friend whose views come by osmosis from Georgetown cocktail parties and the New York Times–she doesn’t even have to read it to reflect it!) spoke of the “hate” that engendered the shootings, by which she meant, on further questioning, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. This response was predictable-even though there is not a shred of evidence to back up what is a very serious allegation. 

But that didn’t stop the talking heads from making the charge. Constantly. As Byron York noted the press that urged caution in the Fort Hood shooting–when the man charged shouted “Allahu Akbar!” before opening fire–is jumping to conclusions with the Tucson shootings.   

Fast forward a little more than a year, to January 8, 2011.  In Tucson, Arizona, a 22 year-old man named Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a political event, gravely wounding Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing a federal judge and five others, and wounding 18.  In the hours after the attack, little was known about Loughner beyond some bizarre and largely incomprehensible YouTube postings that, if anything, suggested he was mentally ill.  Yet the network that had shown such caution in discussing the Ft. Hood shootings openly discussed the possibility that Loughner was inspired to violence by…Sarah Palin.  Although there is no evidence that Loughner was in any way influenced by Palin, CNN was filled with speculation about the former Alaska governor.

After reporting that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik had condemned what Dupnik called “the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” CNN’s Wolf Blitzer turned to congressional reporter Jessica Yellin for analysis.  The sheriff “singled out some of the political rhetoric, as you point out, in creating the environment that allowed this kind of instance to happen,” Yellin told Blitzer.  “Even though, as you point out, this suspect is not cooperating with investigators, so we don’t know the motive.  President Obama also delivered that message, saying it’s partly the political rhetoric that led to this.”

Glenn Reynolds went farther (and I have to confess I agree with his assessment):

There’s a climate of hate out there, all right, but it doesn’t derive from the innocuous use of political clichés. And former Gov. Palin and the tea party movement are more the targets than the source.

As another piece in the Wall Street Journal observes Jared Lee Loughher, who is being held for the shooting, is a mentally disturbed man who “joins Sirhan Sirhan, John Hinckley Jr. and many others whose derangement led them to horrible acts of violence.” Still, I have to confess that when I heard the news, I had a knee jerk reaction: Please, don’t let there be anything in the shooter’s history that gives any reason to tie him to the Tea Party. But of course there didn’t have to be anything. Those who would seize upon the tragedy to shut down discourse didn’t need evidence. But you know what? More and more people are catching onto this tactic. There are too many of us who know that we are sympathetic to,  say, the Tea Party and that we are not at all like the media portrays us. We’re not falling for it anymore. 

I am every bit as sad about the Tucson shootings as my Georgetown friend. But I know whom to blame: the shooter. But if there were a terrible earthquake in China, my friend could probably find a way to blame Sarah Palin.