A characteristic of many contemporary minds is susceptibility to the superstition that all behavior can be traced to some diagnosable frame of mind that is a product of promptings from the social environment. From which flows a political doctrine: Given clever social engineering, society and people can be perfected. This supposedly is the path to progress. It actually is the crux of progressivism. And it is why there is a reflex to blame conservatives first.
Will finds it ironic that past assassins with more explicitly or comprehensibly political motivations that the Tucson suspect were dispatched summarily without efforts to find others guilty by association with them. His irony is somewhat misplaced. It is true, to my knowledge, that no one attempted a purge of the "Stalwart" faction of the Republican party after Charles Guiteau, upon assassinating President Garfield, declared himself a Stalwart. But Will's claim that Leon Czolgosz, the professed anarchist who killed President McKinley, was "executed, not explained," falls short of accuracy. In fact, Czolgosz's identification of himself as an anarchist specifically influenced by the writings of Emma Goldman led to government persecution of Goldman and a kind of "red scare" during which the nation contemplated banning anarchist writings, deporting known anarchists and forbidding immigrants dumb enough to declare "anti-government" sentiments from entering the country. Since this happened under Theodore Roosevelt's watch, and with some support from him, Will might want to blame it on the "progressive" impulse, but his is a broader narrative of the left's persecution of the right, so this particular chapter probably makes a poor fit with his mythos.
A growing irritation with Republican whining shouldn't blind us to the fact that there certainly is an impulse among many self-described liberals and progressives to "blame conservatives first" when something like the Tucson amoklauf takes place. Just as some Republicans defensively assume that the shooter must be some sort of leftist once they're convinced that he isn't a rightist, Democrats and their allies assume that someone who shoots a Democrat must be a rightist and to some degree sympathetic with the Republican agenda. Both sides are guilty of Bipolar thinking, and both sides recognize an equation of conservatism with "hate," the Republicans regarding it as a deliberate libel and the Democrats as a fact. Unfortunately, Republicans are too contemptuous toward their opponents (that contempt is something different from the "hate" Democrats perceive) to make any real effort to refute the libel, while a moralistic streak among liberals and progressives makes the association seem irrefutable. With each side typically content to preach to its own choir, Republicans and Democrats never really seem to try to change each other's minds. Instead, the fact that the old charge has come up again only reinforces Republican assumptions of Democratic wickedness. The voicing of that assumption only reconfirms Democrats' impression that Republicans hate them and may even wish them dead. The Tucson assassin's intervention hasn't really disrupted the vicious loop through which Democratic hysteria hardens Republicans' hearts and vice versa. If so, all of today's pious platitudes and pleas for peace are in vain.
Update: Poor Palin can't seem to catch a break. As I was tempted to predict earlier, her use of the phrase "blood libel" has gotten her in trouble with some Jewish commentators who feel that the term should be used exclusively to refer to the anti-semitic myth about the use of gentile blood in the making of matzoh. They should ease off. Today's climate seems increasingly intolerant of metaphor and allusion the more people assume that some exterior media stimulus must have immediately provoked the Tucson amoklauf. At the same time, I'm intrigued by the frequency with which Republicans have used the controversial term this week. Does it tell us something about their self-image? Do they see themselves as a persecuted minority targeted for extermination by unreasoning haters? Don't many progressives see themselves the same way? Aren't they the ones who see their enemies as "Nazis?" If neither side can see its opponent as anything less than a Nazi, the two parties may be even less capable of compromise than we thought.