Reading over these pieces in Mother Jones, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, I basically find myself of the same mind I was in yesterday, agreeing by and large with Ta-Nehisi Coates:

 As appalled as I've been over the past couple of years by ads like this, veiled allusions to insurrection, and the otherizing of the president, I've found arguments drawing connections between a "climate of hate" and Loughner unpersausive. Simply put, the case that far-right rhetoric contributed or caused this killing spree strikes me as squishy, and, at the moment, unprovable. In The Times and Post this morning, there are some of the calling-cards of the conspiratorial right. But more relevant, there are hallmarks of severe mental problems, and a troubled home-life. 

Quite right.

Furthermore, while I personally find vitriol in politics distasteful and self-defeating, and dislike especially the use of violent rhetoric and imagery, this is hardly anything new in American discourse. I am not a fan of Sarah Palin, but her 'target map' is entirely unremarkable. It has been used in one form or another by countless politicians. The language of violence in our political discourse is unbecoming and tasteless, but it rarely leads to actual acts of violence.

There is certainly always a risk attached that something a talking head or politician says will tip a crazy person over the edge - which is why I do not personally engage in this sort of punditry – but so far in American history, most acts of political violence have come from fringe actors, often acting alone and under the impetus of their own psychosis. Loughner appears to have been quite unstable and out to kill either a police officer or Giffords who he held a bizarre grudge against for not answering his question, “What is government if words have no meaning?” at an earlier political rally she held. The broader ‘political climate’ does not appear to have played a role, as Mark Thompson notes:

There’s not at this point any evidence that Loughner was even aware of right-wing conspiracy theories, much less that he was actually influenced by them.  While there may be independent reasons for complaining about rhetoric, there is in fact no evidence that rhetoric, or even for that matter the “rhetorical climate,” played a role here.  That certainly may change, but at this point there’s more evidence that the History Channel deserves blame for continually broadcasting and mainstreaming bizarre theories about the 2012 “prophesies” than that political rhetoric played a role in allowing this maniac to think that shooting 20 people and killing a nine-year old girl would be an appropriate act.

Thompson goes on to say,

Using a tragedy to force a national discussion on a political issue you’ve been complaining about for a long time, when there’s no evidence that issue had any relevance to the tragedy whatsoever does no one any good.  This is particularly true when the political issue is purportedly paranoid rhetoric; absent evidence of an actual connection, attempts to draw a connection will do nothing more than feed into and validate the very rhetoric about which you are concerned.

Loughner was a nihilist and appears to have wanted to sew chaos and mayhem and a huge media response. What little we can tell of Loughner’s influences appear to be far fringier than Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. What I do worry about with someone like Beck is that he has given some level of legitimacy to the fringier far-right groups out there, groups like the Birchers that William F. Buckley worked hard to marginalize on the right. Giving legitimacy to these groups is deeply troubling. I’m really not sure what can be done about that other than to condemn it forcefully. Free speech is paramount, and even the uglier free speech should be left out in the open and in the sunlight where it can be condemned and marginalized by all who hear it. Political leaders on both the right and the left need to be at the forefront of this condemnation, while still upholding and defending our right to free speech.

Furthermore, while I have noted previously my own distaste for firearms (I support the right to bear arms but don’t choose to exert that right) I nevertheless fail to see how any change in open-carry laws would have made a difference in the Tucson shooting. In fact, I fail to see how any gun laws at all would have helped unless we were to ban the ownership of handguns altogether, and even then Loughner would have been able to find a gun on the black market. The problem with laws is that the law-abiding follow them and the crazy people who intend to break the law by shooting at a crowd of innocents do not. Even background checks on Loughner would not have revealed his mental illnesss. There is little reason to believe that stricter rules at political rallies would have changed anything at all.

The tragedy of the Tucson massacre has been regretably overshadowed by pundits of all stripes using this tragedy to push their own agenda. Even the act of writing about not politicizing the shooting puts me in the awkward and somewhat hypocritical position of politicizing the shooting. The victims of this massacre and their families deserve at the very least a brief period of respite from this poor use of their personal loss and grief.