House Speaker John Boehner seemed truly appalled by the murderous rampage against Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and constituents at a supermarket in her Tucson, Ariz., district. But the Republican's contention that this was "an attack on all who serve" wasn't quite right.
The apparent gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, may be a 22-year-old loner and is probably insane, but his attack was not against "all who serve." It was on a Democrat who had been vilified by a gun-waving right wing that Boehner's party tolerates and feeds with self-pitying visions of oppression.
In the wake of the Tucson tragedy, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wisely decided to postpone the scheduled vote to repeal health care reform. No issue has been more subject to his party's violence-tinged theatrics than has this one.
It's not easy to reject legislation that guarantees heath care security while trimming hundreds of billions off projected deficits - and all in the service of corporate interests. To pull it off, Republicans had to distract the confused and angry tea party folk with ravings about loss of freedom, a shredding of the Constitution and the need to take up arms.
So it wasn't shadowy fringe elements accusing Democrats of creating government-run death panels in their health care reform. Establishment figures from the GOP - the "nice" Iowan Sen. Charles Grassley - painted paranoiac images of government pulling the plug on grandma.
On the health care legislation, Sarah Palin said last March: "It's undemocratic. It's un-American," and was being "crammed down our throats."
Speaker Boehner, politics may be a rough sport, and nastiness does come from all sides. But Democrats have no Palin-like figure putting political opponents in the cross hairs, as she had placed Giffords' district in her famously repulsive graphic. There is no Democratic version of Giffords' recent Republican opponent, who ran the following sicko notice: "Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly."
Listen to the language employed by Jeff McQueen, a tea party "leader" widely interviewed on national radio. A self-proclaimed defender of the "House of Liberty," McQueen told NPR: "We have a choice of four boxes if we want to make political change in this country. We can go to the soap box, we can go to the ballot box, or we can go to the jury box, and hopefully, we won't have to go to the bullet box."
An astonished show host Tom Ashbrook responded: "Bullet box! Are you talking about armed revolution?"
McQueen answered in his blankly confident way, "Have you seen ammunition sales in the last 12 months?"
A weird comment from an insignificant player? During the campaign, the Republican senatorial candidate in Nevada, Sharron Angle, spoke of "domestic enemies" in Washington. A tea party favorite, she added, "I hope we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies."
Given this normalization of violent rhetoric by a mainstream party, it was only inevitable that a psychopath with a semiautomatic would get pushed off his shaky edge. That he landed on a Norman Rockwellian "Congress on Your Corner" event, run by the gentle and moderate Gabby Giffords, makes the outrage all the more grotesque.
The shooter didn't put a bullet through the head of just any public servant, but one subjected to repeated threats, one whose office was vandalized after she voted for the health care bill.
So no, Speaker Boehner, that massacre wasn't about "us" who serve the people. It was about Democrats operating in a political environment his party helped poison.
Harrop is a syndicated columnist.