Littwin: On Republican rhetoric and the Planned Parenthood shooting
December 1, 2015
The question now, in the days after the horror at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, is all about motive. But not necessarily for the usual reasons.
From what we've learned from media reports so far, the killer, Robert Dear, was an "alienated" man "adrift" who "lived off the grid" and "preferred to be alone." The New York Times quoted a neighbor from Dear's days living in North Carolina as saying, "I think I would have thought he was a guy who would go on a rampage." The Washington Post quotes another: "He was weird. Everyone kept an eye on him."
None of this surprises. If the man who killed three and wounded nine while taking a city hostage in a five-hour siege turns out to be yet another disturbed person with the usual unchecked access to guns, it could hardly surprise. There was the open-carry killing of three in Colorado Springs just a month ago.
That is, sadly, America in the 21st century, even as Barack Obama once again says of the shootings, "Enough is enough."
But because the killings took place at a Planned Parenthood, the fight over guns — which has become a central part of the 2016 presidential debate — is only a starting point. As everyone must know, it has been a political season marked by GOP denunciations of Planned Parenthood. It is nothing new to see arguments on abortion grow heated, but the release of the heavily edited sting videos used to accuse Planned Parenthood of selling fetal tissue has raised the stakes and, with them, the rhetoric.
If you believe that words matter, then you have these to consider: Various Republican presidential candidates have called the organization "barbaric" (Marco Rubio) and a "criminal enterprise" (Ted Cruz) in which "children" are "grown and killed for their body parts, to be sold for profit."
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If you actually believed that someone was growing children and killing them for body parts, what would your reaction be?
We may not know Dear's motive, and there may not be a single motive, but it's clear that it was in this political season that Dear left his trailer in Hartsel, west of Colorado Springs, and went to the clinic.
And since the killings, you may have noticed near silence from the GOP candidates, who have spent months loudly calling for the defunding of Planned Parenthood — and in some cases saying the fight is worth shutting down the government. In the past two days, only a few candidates have referenced the shootings at all, and none, as far as I can tell, has mentioned the organization by name. (Neither, for that matter, did Cory Gardner in his statement about the murders.)
Cruz told reporters Saturday, "We don't know … what those motives were, but whatever they were, it's unacceptable, and it's horrific and wrong." Of course, he also has called the Planned Parenthood videos "horrific."
For those wondering about motive, however, law enforcement sources have been leaking to various news media that Dear talked of "no more baby parts" when explaining his actions to officials. The "baby parts" would presumably lead back to the videos. One source told the Washington Post that although Dear rambled through the interviews, he was "definitely politically motivated."
NBC News, which first reported the "baby parts" line, said the interviews with Dear were described as "rantings" and that they including discussions of Barack Obama and that a precise motive wasn't clear.
But it may not be that complicated. Earlier, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, the former state attorney general, reasonably said that we should probably be able to infer motive in the Planned Parenthood attack "from where it took place." Suthers also told a Colorado Springs Gazette reporter that his guess was that the killer was a "misdirected ideologue of some sort."
If Suthers is right, the questions remain: What kind of ideologue, and how was he misdirected?
These are loaded questions, of course. Planned Parenthood has been at the center of the abortion debate for years. States with Republican majorities routinely "defund" the organization. States also have been shutting down abortion clinics with various laws that may or not be constitutional, and the Supreme Court is expected to hear a critical case from Texas in this term.
But the sting videos are about more than laws. They're all about the heat. An abortion clinic has long been a dangerous place to work. Have "baby parts" made it that much more dangerous for those who work there and for those who receive medical care there?
What we do know is that Carly Fiorina, in a GOP debate, said, "I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation."
Or maybe it was about the character of a candidate. A range of fact-checkers noted that what Fiorina described was nowhere to be found even in the edited videos. Her attack did, however, move her up in the GOP standings for a time.
Planned Parenthood repeatedly makes the case that abortion is a small part of what it does. Supplying fetal tissue for scientific research — a law for which many Republicans voted — is a tiny part of what it does. Providing health care for women of limited means is most of what it does.
But there's another argument. I mentioned this before, but I don't think it can be said too often. Perhaps the most touching story from the tragedy is of Garrett Swasey, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs cop who was also an elder in a conservative church that does not approve of abortion. He gave his life in order to protect others, whether or not they agreed with him. That's a motive everyone should admire.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.