WHEN Scott Roeder shot George Tiller, the doctor who specialized in late-term abortions, the reaction was unpleasant - if not surprising. Many in the pro-choice movement, including even a number of Republicans, accused the entire pro-life movement of having blood on its hands.
But they also singled out Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who'd strongly criticized Tiller as someone who would "execute babies."
While I understand why that language was offensive to some (although not in my mind as offensive as an actual late-term-abortion procedure), those words weren't what caused Roeder to kill Tiller. And any claims to the contrary are as off-base as saying that Jared Loughner was motivated by political speech when he massacred six innocent people in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday.
But when did disconnection from reality ever stop anyone from trying to score political points? It's not only failed sportscasters like MSNBC's Keith Olbermann who took the bait, blaming conservatives for inflaming the passions of a deranged man. (I'd also put the now-notorious sheriff of Pima County into this same point-scoring crowd - you know, the one who usually spends his time calling the citizens of his state racist for supporting that controversial immigration legislation.)
I HAVE A BIG problem with that reaction. And I'm apparently not alone. President Obama himself thinks we should stop "turning on each other," as he memorably stated in his speech Wednesday at the memorial service for the victims of the Arizona rampage. I applaud him for the clarity and common decency of his words.
I also applaud Sarah Palin, who masterfully dispensed with the myth of collective responsibility for the massacre this way:
"We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker . . . it is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions."
Wise words, and perhaps they would have gotten a lot more play if she hadn't made the alleged gaffe of calling herself a victim of "blood libel."
Although every sensible person knew what she meant to say, it's never a good idea to give your critics an opening as wide as the Grand Canyon to attack you. (Next time, she should use Google, because if there's the slightest possibility someone out there will try to make her look like a bigot, they'll do it. Even when it's completely uncalled for.)
But that's the nature of politics these days. The true obscenity in all of this is not that so-called hate speech motivated a psychopath to kill but that so many people were willing to believe that this is what really caused the bloodshed.
Can it be that we are so blinded by partisan hatred that we're missing the real reason Loughner was able to commit his heinous acts?
The real reason that Dallas Green's granddaughter was murdered along with five other bright souls is that our mental- health system has created the ripest of conditions for the massacre.
Yes, it's time to point fingers, only not at the favorite whipping boys of the liberal elite.
Palin didn't paint a target on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, despite what the opportunistic dunces at MSNBC say. O'Reilly didn't whisper code into the shooter's ear. Fox News' Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity didn't send him the blueprint for mayhem, and the tea party usually doesn't have much sympathy for readers of the "Communist Manifesto" (Exhibit A in Loughner's lunacy).
There was no vast right-wing conspiracy to put weapons in the hands of a madman, and anyone who attempts to strangle the First Amendment by condemning "hate speech" (with a distinctly Philly accent, Rep. Bob Brady) is a self-serving, grandstanding example of why we need term limits.
In reality, all this talk about the heated political climate and the need for gun control and the soulless members of the GOP provides nice cover for the American Civil Liberties Union and its decades-long attempt to make sure the mentally ill roam our streets with impunity, which ignores the very real danger that people with diseased and tortured minds pose to the rest of society.
It makes us believe that, in protecting the "rights" of our most vulnerable citizens, we are improving their lives. And it allows madmen like Loughner to shatter a placid Saturday in expiation of their twisted demons.
Of course, not every schizophrenic is a danger. As the New York Times' David Brooks noted in his brilliant attack on the despicable attempts to lay the Tucson tragedy at the feet of conservatives only "about 1 percent of the seriously mentally ill . . . are violent." But that single percentage point accounts for about 40,000 people nationwide.
Loughner was clearly one of them. And the only voices he listened to were the ones in his head.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer.
See her on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m. E-mail