In search of Bartholemew Cubbins

Like just about everyone else in America, I've been thinking a lot about the horrendous assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. I don't know if it's possible to be anything but horrified and appalled by an act of violence so senseless and monstrous. As more is learned about the man who (allegedly) shot Rep. Giffords and murdered six innocent people, a clearer picture of derangement and alienation develops. We may never know what motivated him to do what he did. Anyone who would kill a 9-year-old girl is probably beyond the understanding of reasonable people.

However shocking the attack was, though, it didn't seem surprising. Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems that the national reaction has not been one of "how could this have happened?" but more "why has it come to this?" It feels like this is the culmination of a corrosive process that we've all been watching. Obviously it's impossible to truly understand any point in history other than the one in which one lives, so things tend to seem unique or extraordinary simply from the accident of having been witnessed without the ability to compare with the past, but it sure seems as though our national discourse has become exceptionally poisonous lately.

Playing on both Devin's post from yesterday and a conversation I had with occasional co-blogger Elizabeth (which means you can blame my ramblings collectively on the entire Bleakonomy team), I wonder what role our opinion leaders have played. The only person who can be blamed in a real sense for the shooting is the unhinged young man who shot the people. However, is it wrong to posit that his lunacy could very well have been informed by the images he was digesting from the national media? Maybe his psychological decompensation was inevitable. But were the particulars of his attack informed by what he had been seeing and hearing about our country's leaders, Rep. Giffords among them? Did talk of "second-amendment remedies" and images of crosshairs over his district have a particularly morbid effect on the festering obsessions of an unhealthy mind?

Do I think that Sarah Palin is proximately responsible for the violence in Arizona? No. Do I think she bears some responsibility? Perhaps. One thing I do know, however, is she needs to stop insulting my goddamn intelligence. Via TPM:
An aide to Sarah Palin claims the crosshairs depicted in her now-infamous target list of Democrats were not actually gun-sights, and that it's "obscene" and "appalling" to blame Palin for the shooting.

"We never ever, ever intended it to be gun sights. It was simply cross-hairs like you'd see on maps," said Rebecca Mansour on the Tammy Bruce radio show. Moreover, there was "nothing irresponsible" about the image, and to draw a line connecting Palin and Saturday's shooting is "obscene" and "appalling."

As the Gawker link above notes, the images were introduced with the words "Don't retreat, instead- RELOAD!" and a TPM reader submits that even Palin herself referred to the images as "bullseye." Anyone who has ever looked through a gun sight (or watched the opening sequence of a James Bond movie, for that matter) knows what crosshairs are and what they signify. Palin needs to start her damage control by firing Rebecca Mansour for, among other things, being an incompetent fool.

Which brings me to the title of the post. It seems I'm regressing, because I'm once again going to refer to a beloved book from my childhood. In "Bartholemew and the Oobleck," King Derwin of Didd nearly destroys his kingdom. In his hubris, he demands a new kind of weather, having grown bored with the standard varieties. This leads to the country being overwhelmed with a sticky, smothering substance that falls from the sky. As the book draws to a close, he sits glued to his throne with oobleck.

What saves the kingdom is the page boy, Bartholemew Cubbins. After having seen the situation get worse and worse, he finally confronts the king about his culpability and pride. The king bristles and blusters, but finally relents and simply says "I'm sorry." And with that, the oobleck melts away in the sun.

I am not such a numbskull as to believe that such a simplistic lesson holds all that much value for our polarized, fractious country. It wouldn't make things right if Palin were to apologize for her rhetoric. Indeed, there is no way to make the murder of innocents "right." But it would be a beginning if she (or anyone who has engaged in the same kind of brickbat-hurling, incendiary talk) could say "I'm sorry for whatever small part I've played in this." For my part, I think this incident is going to do irreparable harm to any ambitions she had either way, and the best thing she could do now is behave like a states(wo)man and sincerely express some regret.

Update: Over to you, David Frum.


  1. Do me a favor. Go to the Maps app on your iPhone and look at the icon in the lower-left portion of the screen. The one that you push to find your current location.


    Is Google pushing mass suicide?

  2. Having followed these instructions and checked out the above link, I must concede that I have trouble discerning your point.

  3. I support Sarah Palin's right to use crosshairs in her imagery. I don't believe she owes anybody an apology.

  4. Ah. I see now. I, too, support her right to use whatever imagery she chooses. I do, however, wish she would choose this moment in America to demonstrate an introspection and grace heretofore sadly lacking in her public persona.

    Also, if you're suggesting that the images were surveying icons rather than crosshairs of a gun sight, Palin's own subsequent comments belie this interpretation. Regardless, I believe I have spoken sufficiently to this question in later posts.