Frank Rich, with video (04:55):
For the sake of this discussion, let’s stipulate that Loughner was a "lone nutjob" who had never listened to Glenn Beck or been a card-carrying member of either the Tea or Communist parties. Let’s also face another tragedy: The only two civic reforms that might have actually stopped him — tighter gun control and an effective mental health safety net — won’t materialize even now.
Did Loughner see Palin’s own most notorious contribution to the rancorous tone — her March 2010 Web graphic targeting Congressional districts? We have no idea — nor does it matter. But Giffords did. Her reaction to it — captured in an interview she did back then with Chuck Todd of MSNBC — was the most recycled, if least understood, video of last week.
Last week a conservative presidential candidate, Tim Pawlenty, timidly said it wouldn’t be his “style” to use Palin’s target map, but was savaged so viciously by his own camp that he immediately retreated. A senior Republican senator told Politico that he saw the Tucson bloodbath as a “cautionary tale” for his party, yet refused to be named.
What are they and their peers so afraid of? No doubt that someone might reload — the same fears that prompted Gabrielle Giffords to speak up, calmly but firmly, last March. Unless and until they can match her courage and speak out too, it’s hard to see what will change. MORE...