Ross Douthat on an Assassin's Complex Motivation "It's possible that Jared Lee Loughner, the young man behind Saturday's rampage in Tucson, will have a more direct connection to partisan politics than an earlier generation's gunmen did," observes the New York Times columnist. However, looking back on the recent history of political assassinations, Douthat finds that many assassins' motivations simply cannot be boiled down to heated rhetoric and partisan politics. Pointing toward Lee Harvey Oswald, Arthur Bremer, and James W. von Brunn as evidence, Douthat writes that "violence in American politics tends to bubble up from a world that's far stranger than any Glenn Beck monologue--a murky landscape where worldviews get cobbled together from a host of baroque conspiracy theories, and where the line between ideological extremism and mental illness gets blurry fast." He concludes: "When our politicians and media loudmouths act like fools and zealots, they should be held responsible for being fools and zealots. They shouldn't be held responsible for the darkness that always waits to swallow up the unstable and the lost."
Fareed Zakaria on Biden's Trip to Pakistan This week, the Vice President will make his "most important" trip since arriving in office, writes the Washington Post columnist. Joe Biden will arrive in Pakistan during a time of political, societal, and economic upheaval (especially after last week's assassination of Salman Taseer), and try to convince the nation's rulers that they "have to go on the offensive and rid their country of the cancer of religious fanaticism." This will be especially difficult considering that "Pakistan's liberals and moderates have been silent and scared" while jihadists infiltrate the military. "Biden should make clear that the United States supports the democratically elected government, those who urge moderation and peace and those who are willing to fight terrorism," Zakaria writes, before noting that Pakistani cooperation is critical to the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. "The Taliban could easily withdraw into its Pakistani bases, allow U.S. troops to draw down later this year and then return, rested and rearmed, to renew the battle against the Kabul government. At that point, the United States will face the choice of being forced into another 'surge' or continuing the drawdown in the face of a rising Taliban."
Michelle Goldberg on a Shooting's Political Context There is much speculation about whether this weekend's attempted assassination of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords was politically motivated. Writing at The American Prospect, Michelle Goldberg believes that while it is obvious, based on his "incoherent YouTube videos," that the alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, is mentally ill, "his videos, which most feature black and white text, have moments of lucidity, and in those moments, Loughner parrots Tea Party obsessions." Goldberg gives several examples of current politicians who use gun terminology in violent political rhetoric, something that, in the hands of a mentally unstable person, could encourage attacks like Saturday's in Arizona. "His mad act was not random," she argues, pointing out that while "among conservatives, there's a frantic effort to deny that there's any political context to this attempted assassination," there has also been very little indication that conservatives will agree to "tone down" their violent rhetoric.
Edwidge Danticat on the Haitian Earthquake's Lingering Impact Writing in The New Yorker, Danticat--a Port-au-Prince native--argues that one year after the 7.0 earthquake that devastated the country, fear of cholera is the single greatest threat to Haiti's recovery. Some of the impact is practical. "As the election stalemate lingers," writes Danticat, "the rice farmers in Haiti's Artibonite Valley--the country's breadbasket--are refusing to step into the bacteria-infected waters of their paddies, setting the stage for potential food shortages and more possible death ahead, this time from hunger." But the threat of cholera has also had a spiritual impact on a country where water plays a key role in religious ceremony and cultural mythology. It's an element of faith in the "Haitian vodou tradition" that recently deceased souls "slip into rivers and streams and remain there, under the water, for a year and a day" before "emerging from the water and the spirits are reborn." But with cholera rampant, water is treated warily, like a "feared poison" in the country.
Tom Devine on the Importance of Whistleblower Protection Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project, takes note of a major act that failed unanimous passage this past December because of one anonymous senator's "secret hold." The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act offers "expanded protection for federal employees against retaliation for reporting waste, fraud and abuse." In the Los Angeles Times, Devine points out that this Act would further the new Republican Congress's "mantra of cracking down against deficits, fraud, waste and abuse," yet the unknown senator responsible for blocking its passage is a Republican. "Whistle-blowers risk their professional lives for Republican campaign rhetoric," Devine explains, adding that "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) needs to restore GOP credibility, and show that he and his colleagues have heard the voters, by helping pass this law promptly in January. He has shown impressive party discipline when it comes to defeating Democrats. Now it's time for the same resolve defending taxpayers."