Claiming that Arizona gunman Jared Loughner was motivated to kill by heated political rhetoric is about as sensible as believing the Son of Sam’s assertion that he was motivated to kill by the barking of his neighbor Sam’s dog. Son of Sam and Keith Olbermann see a link – perhaps even Loughner sees a link – but consider the source. The truth is people like Loughner kill because they are too mentally unbalanced and angry at society to be influenced by even normal considerations of self-preservation, no less by the tone of civil discourse.
Keith Olbermann, Sheriff Dupnik and the others trying to score political points by blaming political rhetoric are going down a very dangerous road both because it absolves violent killers of full responsibility for their actions and because it aims to silence the passions that are an important part of public debate. Martin Luther King and his fellow civil rights activists used passionate and heated rhetoric to rouse the nation against white segregationists. But, surely, that does not make Dr. King and his colleagues partly responsible for the violent crimes of the Black Panthers and James Earl Ray.
Ultimately, the passionate rhetoric of conservatives like Glen Beck may be vindicated by history or condemned by it. But that is for the American people to decide as the debate plays out in the coming years, not for Keith Olbermann and Sheriff Dupnik to decide by cutting off debate.
Cross-posted at Politico.