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First Thoughts: The right pushes back

The right pushes back on the Arizona tragedy… So does the left… Why are partisans playing the victim card when they’re not really the victim?... Obama to speak in Arizona on Wednesday… John Kerry discusses political gridlock (and the state of American political discourse) at 10:00 am ET… Sarah Palin’s silence… A big 2012 week takes a back seat to what happened in Arizona… Romney’s in the Middle East… And the white flight from Obama and the Dems.

*** The right pushes back: Well, that didn’t take long. After we wrote yesterday that the horrific shootings in Arizona offered the possibility of ushering in a more civil and responsible tone in American politics, activists and commentators on both sides refused to back down. In fact, Monday was all about trying to define the other side as out of their minds. Sad. On the right, Rush Limbaugh accused Democrats of politicizing the tragedy. “The desperate hope that the losers in November of 2010 had was that they could revitalize their political fortunes because of this unfortunate shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona,” Limbaugh said, per Roll Call. “But the left is depraved, empty and without any political substance whatsoever.” Glenn Beck added, “They are using every opportunity to convince you that Sarah Palin is dangerous.” The Tea Party Express, meanwhile, sent a fundraising solicitation entitled, “Tea Party won’t be silenced after shooting.” And the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell argued that the media was trying to “criminalize conservatism.”

*** So does the left: On the left, the New York Times’ Bob Herbert today writes, “The vitriol that has become an integral part of our political rhetoric, most egregiously from the right, is just one of the myriad contributing factors in a society saturated in blood.” And Paul Krugman asked yesterday, “So will the Arizona massacre make our discourse less toxic? It’s really up to G.O.P. leaders. Will they accept the reality of what’s happening to America, and take a stand against eliminationist rhetoric? Or will they try to dismiss the massacre as the mere act of a deranged individual, and go on as before?”

*** Playing the victim card when you’re not really the victim: What was particularly striking to us is how activists, especially on the right, were playing the victim when there are so many actual victims -- the deceased, the wounded, the grieving -- in Arizona. And here’s our point from yesterday: Although it appears that Jared Lee Loughner had nothing to do with mainstream conservatism or liberalism, can’t we all agree to condemn violent, de-humanizing, or de-legitimizing rhetoric -- “2nd Amendment remedies,” “Don’t retreat, instead reload,” “Gather your armies” "facism/socialism," etc. -- aimed at our politicians and government institutions? In today’s political climate, as we pointed out, opponents just don’t disagree, they de-humanize each other; they just don’t question those in power, they de-legitimize them; and we in the media just play along, giving attention to the extremes and the shiny metal objects. It’s time for all of us to act more responsibly. But what's happening in the land of opinion is cringe-worthy. There are so many folks in search of a high horse to mount. Those poor horses.

*** Obama to speak in Arizona on Wednesday: So far, however, elected officials in both parties have reacted more responsibly. And we learned last night that President Obama will speak tomorrow in Tucson at the University of Arizona. The White House, per NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, says the speech will be primarily about remembering the victims, although it’s unclear whether Obama will address the divisive political climate (before and after Saturday’s shootings). If the president does address the divisive climate, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent makes this point: Those calls for civility usually prove to be short-lived. Also today: Democratic Sen. John Kerry gives a speech at 10:00 am ET on political gridlock at the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress, and he’ll address the tragedy in Tucson -- as well as the state of American discourse -- at the top of his remarks. http://wapo.st/i4bO0K

*** Palin’s silence: By the way, the silence from Sarah Palin -- besides her offer of condolences on Saturday and her email to Glenn Beck -- has been deafening. As Republican David Frum said in Andrea Mitchell’s “TODAY” piece this morning, “You can hunker down, and you say, ‘It’s not my fault.” And, of course, she’s right -- it’s not her fault. Or you can be bigger than that. You can go out and … you can be the leader that Americans want to see.” In many ways, this moment is a presidential test, and she's chosen to ignore it so far. And don’t miss this comment about Palin by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty via the New York Times: “‘There’s no indication at present that those cross hairs, Fox News, any particular commentator or show or set of remarks or person was a motivating factor in his thoughts,’ Mr. Pawlenty said of Mr. Loughner. When asked if he would have produced a similar map, Mr. Pawlenty said, ‘I wouldn’t have done it.’”

*** Big 2012 week takes back seat to Arizona tragedy: Speaking of Pawlenty, this was supposed to be a fairly big 2012 week for Republicans weighing White House bids. Before going on his tour this week to promote his new book, “Courage to Stand,” Pawlenty (R) appears today on “The View.” Mitt Romney, meanwhile, is in the Middle East. Former Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Rick Santorum visits New Hampshire today. And Newt Gingrich will head to South Carolina on Thursday.

*** Romney in the Middle East: As mentioned above, Romney has traveled overseas to visit Afghanistan, Israel, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates; in fact, Romney met with Afghan President Karzai yesterday. He later meets with Israeli PM Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah. “The purpose of the trip is not to conduct private diplomacy but to give Gov. Romney a first-hand look at what is happening in an important region of the world,” his PAC said in a statement on Sunday. “The trip is being paid for by a combination of private sources. In Afghanistan, Governor Romney is traveling under the auspices of the International Republican Institute, and as part of his itinerary there he will train Afghans and share with local leaders his views on issues of leadership, public service, economic opportunity and democratic participation. The Israel portion of the trip is sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation.”

*** White flight? We missed this when it first came out, but Ron Brownstein in the latest National Journal examines the exit polls from the 2010 midterms and finds that Democrats underperformed with white voters. “The new data show that white voters not only strongly preferred Republican House and Senate candidates but also registered deep disappointment with President Obama’s performance, hostility toward the cornerstones of the current Democratic agenda, and widespread skepticism about the expansive role for Washington embedded in the party’s priorities. On each of those questions, minority voters expressed almost exactly the opposite view from whites.” Brownstein’s conclusion: In 2012, Obama and Dems will have to improve their performance with whites, or will have to pull of what they did in ‘08 (and what Michael Bennet did in ‘10): overperform with minorities, young voters, and women.

Countdown to the RNC chair election: 3 days
Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 42 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 301 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 391 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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