Opinion: Tucson -- So What Happens Now?

Despite calls for civility, and reduced decibel politics, the debate rages loudly over whether accused mass murderer Jared Loughner was inspired, motivated, instigated and/or encouraged by the acrimonious political climate in Tucson and the rest of the country. Or, was he simply an aberrant, insane, psychotic, sociopathic nut job who would have acted out violently even if he lived in Cape Cod or San Francisco?

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the ultimate answer will be both. He’s clearly crazy, but as the records show, he was also obsessed with targeting Congresswoman Gabriel Giffords (‘my assassination’ he called the pending attack) and had been obsessed with her since 2007.

Why her? Did she in some way ‘insult’ him by replying to his nutty inquiries with a form letter? Maybe? But remember, I went to college in Tucson. It is essentially a small town where the race for Congress dominates the newspaper, talk radio and local TV scene in a way the mayoral race does New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. Anyone who thinks this one particular loon was somehow insulated or isolated from the impassioned and sometimes ugly 24/7 shouting that accompanied her hotly contested congressional campaigns in 2008 and 2010, not to mention her vote in favor of health care, is in denial.

Could that be considered political? Does it have anything to do with the Tea Party or Sarah Palin? Probably not. Given the disturbing revelations of his twisted mind, he might have otherwise been obsessed with fluoride in toothpaste or 9/11 as an ‘Inside Job’ or, illegal Mexican immigration into Southern Arizona where that searing hot button issue is debated emotionally everyday/all day.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter why he did it because every fruit cake mass killer has a reason justifying his hideous criminality. Timmy McVeigh in Oklahoma City murdered 168 of his fellow Americans because of his twisted political vision of government over-reaching. Lee Harvey Oswald in Dallas murdered JFK, the young and gracious 35th president because of Oswald’s professed distress over our policy toward Cuba and the Communist world. And Major Nidal Hassan massacred 13 GI’s in Fort Hood, presumably because of our wars against his fellow radical Islamists.

But Jared Loughner is more like Seung-Hui Cho, the murderer of 32 fellow students at Virginia Tech. Cho was also pissed off at life and, like Loughner, choose to vent his apocryphal frustration on any innocent in his disgusting path.

Some predictions:

1- The mass murder in Tucson will cause us to re-consider the treatment of the mentally ill. We won’t return to the bad old days when husbands could get their wives institutionalized because of a domestic squabble, or grandma because she has a boyfriend and is threatening to squander the inheritance. But when evidence is amassed that someone is a danger to themselves or others, as the unequivocal record shows in the case of Jared Loughner, there will be more of a legal and moral burden on schools, and more importantly, families and friends to report aberrant behavior to mental health authorities or law enforcement. Processes are already in place, and sufficient statutory authority already exists to intervene.

2- However unfairly, this event will have at least a short-term negative effect on the presidential aspirations of Sarah Palin. Her discordant and horribly mistimed ‘blood libel’ video response to those seeking to link her to the Tucson shooter will be played and re-played as an example of intemperance under fire.

3- Again, however inequitably, the Tea Party movement will be diminished because the anger it musters at government will be viewed as unseemly, again, at least in the short-term. With that roaring tiger marginalized; pragmatic, innovative professionals like Mitt Romney, Governor Mitch Daniels, Senator Scott Brown and Jeb Bush will quietly re-take the soul of the Republican Party.

I mention former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is now my favorite politician for reasons other than his Mexican wife, fluency in Spanish, or rational stance on immigration reform. The work done during his tenure in office and more recently by his educational foundation has wrought a miracle in terms of educational attainment by Hispanic youngsters. I’ll have more on that next week. But here’s what he told me Thursday regarding the events in Arizona during my exclusive interview on the eve of his Hispanic Leadership Network conference in Miami. Regarding the aftermath of the Tucson shooting:

“It has given people a chance to maybe pause and think is it appropriate to be jabbering at each other; yelling and screaming at each other as we are prone to do in politics when these things happen?”

“Or going forward, is there a lesson to be learned that maybe we can be more civil?” he said, adding, “I think we have really gone beyond the pale as it relates to personalizing political discourse, not focused on the substance of the conversation. So if this, even though it is not necessarily related, gives people a chance to pause on the left and the right and say we can have a conversation and then defend our views without raising the decibel level…I hope that happens.”

I do too, and so do most Americans, left, right and center.