The atrocity in Tucson on Saturday was a horrifying act of political nihilism. As everyone knows, six innocent people were murdered, and thirteen more very seriously injured, including Rep. Giffords, who was the main target of the assassin. Obviously, the killer was deranged, but the same could probably be said about Leon Czolgosz, the anarchist assassin of William McKinley. That doesn’t make their destructive goals any less political. Nihilism is a charge that a lot of people have thrown around in the last few years, and it has usually been wrong. There are so few actual nihilists that it is usually a mistake to label someone this way, but it seems appropriate in this case. Nihilism is usually the wrong word to use because nihilism is ‘far removed from politics as we normally understand it,’ to use Brooks’ phrase describing Loughner’s thinking, but if anything describes Loughner’s ideas that would seem to be it.
Aside from repugnant opportunism, the main reason why some liberals have tried connecting this atrocity with conventional Republicans and Palin’s demagoguery is that the assassin’s actual politics are so strange and unfamiliar. As horrible and genuinely senseless as it was, the massacre might make some sense if it could be linked to familiar political disputes and woven into ready-made narratives. It might lend the suffering and deaths of all these people some special meaning if they could be seen as political martyrs who were attacked by identifiable extremists from the other ‘side’ because of their convictions, but that wasn’t the case. What is disturbing about Loughner’s attack is that it most likely could have been directed against any public official who happened to draw his ire. No one really knows what to do with someone who takes the view of Bazarov when he says, ‘Aristocratism, liberalism, progress, principles….Just think, how many foreign…and useless words!’ For that reason, many people tend to turn to convenient scapegoats and default villains