Sabato's Crystal Ball

Making Sense of Tucson

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics January 13th, 2011

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If we took the title of this short essay seriously, we’d stop right here. You can’t make sense of the act of a madman. Whatever political influences may have been at work —if any—in the shooter’s warped mind, the compulsions that sent him to his rendezvous with infamy last Saturday were undeniably psychotic.

Americans are familiar with such tragedies, unfortunately. There have been dozens of assassinations and mass shootings since the 1960s. For whatever it is worth, we try to draw lessons from these sad, sick events.

The Tucson massacre turned into a political Rorschach test. At the least, it revealed that a concern about inflamed rhetoric was on a lot of minds. Very quickly, people jumped to inaccurate conclusions about motives, and this initiated yet another vicious round of finger-pointing between the polarized left and right.

Two lessons are apparent here. First, since we’re unlikely to pass gun control, we might try a little tongue control. Facts first, judgments later, lest an Alice in Wonderland standard becomes the norm.

Second, even if heated political debate had little or nothing to do with this terrible incident, a lowering of voices all around would be a silver lining to a very dark cloud, as well as a fitting tribute to the victims.

Other good things can come out of this, if we want.

Finally, we the people need to support our public officials and their staffs as they seek to take every reasonable precaution to protect their safety. They will still be accessible—it’s the job of a representative—but we must remember they have families and a natural human desire to live to a ripe old age. It is hard enough to get good people to run for office as it is. Let’s not have an expectation that they must endanger themselves unnecessarily while serving.