Friday, January 14, 2011

Ann Althouse on President Obama's Tucson Speech

Ann Althouse's blog deconstructs President Obama's divisive rhetoric in Tucson:
Following the advice in the Shaker hymn that followed the President's speech last night, I kept it simple. I highlighted the passage in the speech about how we should take "a good dose of humility" and not "use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another." But I'm not a Shaker, and I'm a little wary when the most powerful man in the world advises the masses to be humble and come together as one. So I want to look at what he said just before that:

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

But "there is evil in the world" is a simple explanation!

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack.

How about: Jared Loughner is a lunatic? Okay, Obama said "exactly." Yes, I agree with his very minor point that we cannot know the precise content and etiology of Loughner's madness. But as we try to understand the political landscape of the real world where non-insane people live, those details don't matter. We have a simple explanation and it's a damned good one. Yet the President tells me I ought to "guard against" thinking in such simple terms. Why? Sometimes it is simple! Jared Loughner is a lone crazy guy. There is evil in the world and it burst forth last Saturday. It's not like labeling al Qaeda "evil" and moving on, because Loughner wasn't part of a web of activity. I think what we need to "guard against" is using Loughner as an example of some larger problem that we need to solve.

Obama continued:

None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

True. We can't know with certainty what his mental processes were, but we are justified in taking it as our working theory that the man was crazy in a way that doesn't relate to the real-world political issues that are worth putting our energy into trying to figure out — other than the real-world issue of identifying and restraining dangerously psychotic persons.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

That's what Obama said just before the passage I highlighted in last night. He goes on to push back those who've used the massacre as an occasion to make partisan political arguments — something he's strongly correct about. All right, then. What are we supposed to examine? We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future. Does he mean old assumptions about the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill? Does he mean gun control? Does he mean limits on free speech? Now, there are some details we need to hear about and debate. If freedom of speech is the "old assumption" we should be "willing to challenge," I'm going to fight.