Some of the rhetoric on the left about the awful shootings at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado is troubling.
Some of the rhetoric on the right after such cases has also been troubling.
I say this to pundits and politicians after each tragedy: Don’t demonize the other side because some crazy guy goes on a shooting spree. But it’s a temptation that many are unable to resist.
Words matter, of course, and rhetoric can be incendiary. But it’s still unfair to draw a link between media and political debate and some violent sociopath who doesn’t value human life.
Inevitably, we’re left with a wave of finger-pointing over which party is “politicizing” the situation, which unfortunately diverts attention from the victims.
It didn’t take long after Friday’s shooting in Colorado Springs, which killed three people, including a police officer, and wounded nine others. Democrats rushed to put out statements, and Republican presidential candidates were mostly silent.
Hillary Clinton, after a supportive “we #StandWithPP” tweet, said: “We should be supporting Planned Parenthood, not attacking it…And it is way past time to protect women’s health and respect women’s rights, not use them as political footballs.”
President Obama, as he has after other mass shootings, turned to gun control, saying that if we truly care about this, “we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough.”
Both statements could be called “political,” but were relatively restrained in tone.
I get that the GOP candidates are staunchly opposed to abortion and have been sharply critical of Planned Parenthood, especially after the deeply disturbing videos in which staffers spoke cavalierly about the harvesting of fetal organs (which prompted an apology from the group’s president and a change in its practice).
But three people--including an Iraq war veteran, a mother of two--are dead because they were at a clinic that provides a legal service.
Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and John Kasich put out statements of sympathy for the victims in the 36 hours after the attack. Would the others have acted differently if the police officer had been murdered at a Starbucks instead?
Still, Planned Parenthood’s executive vice president, Dawn Laguens, ratcheted things up significantly by declaring “it is offensive and outrageous that some politicians are now claiming this tragedy has nothing to do with the toxic environment they helped create. Even when the gunman was still inside of our health center, politicians who have long opposed safe and legal abortion were on television pushing their campaign to defund Planned Parenthood.”
Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said those opposed to abortion "have ignited a firestorm of hate" and "knew there could be these types of consequences." So the murders are "not a huge surprise," she told the Washington Post.
Sorry, but linking the actions of a mentally disturbed gunman to the “toxic environment” that Republicans “helped create” is the old blood-on-the-hands argument. So is "firestorm of hate" language. Opponents of abortion and critics of Planned Parenthood are in no way responsible for this terrible crime.
On “Fox News Sunday,” Carly Fiorina reiterated her opposition to Planned Parenthood and said while the attack was "obviously a tragedy," “anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone that oppose abortion or opposes the sale of body parts” is engaging in “typical left-wing tactics.”
Mike Huckabee, on CNN, called the attack “domestic terrorism” that is “absolutely abominable, especially to those of us in the pro-life movement because there’s nothing about any of us that would condone or any way look the other way at something like this.” He then likened the murders to what goes on inside Planned Parenthood clinics, “where many millions of babies die.”
Cruz denounced "some vicious rhetoric on the left blaming those who are pro-life…The media promptly wants to blame him on the pro-life movement when at this point there’s very little evidence to indicate that."
But sometimes the guilt-by-association allegations fly the other way.
When two Ferguson police officers were shot in March, Front Page magazine ran this headline: “Obama and the Media Have the Blood of Cops on Their Hands.”
When a sheriff’s deputy was killed in Houston in August, Cruz said: “Cops across this country are feeling the assault. They're feeling the assault from the president, from the top on down, as we see — whether it’s in Ferguson or Baltimore, the response from senior officials, the president or the attorney general, is to vilify law enforcement.”
I understand that passions run high in these life and death cases. But partisan blame-shifting doesn’t help the situation and simply becomes one more political brawl in the wake of senseless violence.
Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.