In an earlier post, I argued that figures from the Religious Right were being disingenuous when they denied any connection between anti-abortion rhetoric and the shooting rampage at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. Unfortunately, several Republican presidential candidates have taken the same approach, denouncing the attack while ignoring its deeper implications.
First, Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted his condolences on November 28th, applauding the first responders who arrived on the scene of the Colorado Springs shooting. Ohio Governor John Kasich decried the "senseless violence" as well. (Hat tip to the Hill.)
Praying for the loved ones of those killed, those injured & first responders who bravely got the situation under control in Colorado Springs— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) November 28, 2015
Senseless violence has brought tragedy to Colorado Springs. I pray for the families in mourning and have hope our nation can heal. -John— John Kasich (@JohnKasich) November 28, 2015
Ted Cruz should ask himself how his rhetoric contributed to the atmosphere of anti-abortion hatred out of which the shooting sprang. During the CNN Republican presidential debate on September 16th, Cruz blasted Planned Parenthood over a dubious smear campaign, calling the organization a "criminal enterprise".
"These Planned Parenthood videos are horrifying. I would encourage every American to watch these videos. See senior Planned Parenthood officials callously, heartlessly bartering and selling the body parts of human beings, and then ask yourself, 'are these my values'? These are horrifying. On these videos, Planned Parenthood also essentially confesses to multiple felonies. It is a felony with ten years' jail term to sell the body parts of unborn children for profit. That's what these videos show Planned Parenthood doing. Absolutely, we shouldn't be sending $500 million of taxpayer money to funding an ongoing criminal enterprise."Unfortunately, Cruz is reluctant to reexamine his own rhetoric. In an audio segment from an Iowa event posted by the Texas Tribune, Cruz refused to consider the relationship between strident anti-abortion rhetoric and anti-abortion violence. (Hat tip to CNN.)
REPORTER: Do you think the rhetoric involved in the Planned Parenthood videos in this race had any impact or effect on the events that happened in Colorado Springs on Friday
CRUZ: Well, I think there has been some vicious rhetoric on the left blaming those who are pro-life. I'll tell you, I am proud to be unambiguously pro-life, to support protecting every human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. I think every human life is a gift from God. This murder that occurred in Colorado is tragic. It is a criminal act. We don't fully know the motivations of this deranged individual. We know that he was a man who registered to vote as a woman. The media promptly wants to blame him on the pro-life movement when at this point, there is very little evidence to indicate that.
REPORTER: It was reported he said 'no more baby parts' as he was apprehended.
CRUZ: Well, it's also reported that he was registered as an independent and as a woman and a transgendered leftist activist, if that's what he is. I don't think it's fair to blame on the rhetoric of the left. This is a murderer ...
Cruz isn't the only Republican presidential candidate deflecting attention away from anti-choice rhetoric. During the November 29th edition of Fox News Sunday, Carly Fiorina called the shooting a "tragedy" and referred to the suspected shooter as "deranged". However, she rejected the idea that vitriolic anti-abortion rhetoric and smear campaigns played any role in the Colorado Springs shooting. (Hat tip to Huffington Post.)
WALLACE: You have been one of the toughest critics, as we've said, of Planned Parenthood's alleged harvesting of body parts, selling them for fetal research. Some of the pro-choice advocates are saying language like yours -- not specifically singling you out -- but language like yours has incited violence. I'd like to get your reaction to that ...
FIORINA: Well first, it is not alleged. Planned Parenthood acknowledged several weeks ago that they would no longer take compensation for body parts, which sounds like an admission that they were doing so. Secondly, this is so typical of the left, to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message. The vast majority of Americans agree. What Planned Parenthood is doing is wrong, and that's why the vast majority of Americans are prepared not only to defund Planned Parenthood, but also to stop abortion for any reason at all after five months. So what I would say to anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is this is typical left-wing tactics.
Donald Trump was reluctant to entertain the connection as well. During the November 29th edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Donald Trump called the shooting "a terrible thing" and referred to the suspect as a "maniac". At the 7:02 mark of the above video, Chuck Todd asked Trump whether heated anti-abortion rhetoric influenced the shooter. Trump shrugged off the possibility, preferring to slam Planned Parenthood over dubious videos from the Center for Medical Progress. (Hat tip to NBC News.)
TODD: A spokesperson for Planned Parenthood ... is concerned that the heated rhetoric around the Planned Parenthood debate could have had an adverse effect, basically, on this mentally disturbed individual. Do you think the rhetoric got out of hand on Planned Parenthood?
TRUMP: No, I think he's a sick person, and I think he was probably a person ready to go. We don't even know the purpose. I mean, he hasn't come out, to the best of my knowledge, with a statement as to why it happened to be at that location ...
TODD: Well, we have reporting that he was talking about baby parts and things like that from law enforcement officials during his interview.
TRUMP: Well, I will tell you, there is a tremendous group of people that think it's terrible, all of the videos they've seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood talking about it like you're selling parts to a car. I mean, there are a lot of people that are very unhappy about that.
Finally, Ben Carson contributed little insight to the Colorado Springs discussion. During an interview with ABC's This Week, Ben Carson did not acknowledge any connection between vicious anti-abortion rhetoric and the shooting. Rather, he argued that all sides of the abortion debate have misbehaved, insisting that "there's no saint here". (Hat tip to ABC News.)
"Unfortunately, there is a lot of extremism coming from all areas. It’s one of the biggest problems that I think is threatening to tear our country apart. We get into our separate corners and we hate each other. We want to destroy those with whom we disagree. That comes from both sides, so there’s no saint here in this equation. But what we really have to start asking ourselves is what can we do as a nation to rectify the situation? How can we begin to engage in rational discussion?"The Republican presidential candidates seem hesitant to offend anti-abortion voters, so they tip-toe around the Colorado Springs shooting. None of these candidates seem willing to wrestle with the implications of vitriolic anti-abortion rhetoric, even in the face of anti-abortion extremism. It's a safe bet that if any of these candidates were elected president, their policies would reflect this.
We can't pretend that vitriolic language plays no role in extremist violence. While vicious anti-abortion rhetoric does not cause violence, it does demonize abortion providers and galvanize extremists. Are Republican candidates and Religious Right figures deliberately ignoring this relationship because it would force them to reexamine their attitudes and language? I think so.