The reactions to the event taught us that the left is willing to go to total war to continue their power.
There has been a great effort this week to come to grips with the American left's reaction to the Tucson shooting. Paul Krugman of the New York Times and its editorial page, George Packer of the New Yorker, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek and others, in varying degrees, have linked the murders to the intensity of opposition to the policies and presidency of Barack Obama. As Mr. Krugman asked in his Monday commentary: "Were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?"
The "you" would be his audience, and the answer is yes, they thought that in these times "something like this" could happen in the United States. Other media commentators, without a microbe of conservatism in their bloodstreams, have rejected this suggestion.
So what was the point? Why attempt the gymnastic logic of asserting that the act of a deranged personality was linked to the tea parties and the American right? Two reasons: Political calculation and personal belief.
I think the left has missed the point for all their denigration of the tea parties. Calling them names and insulting them doesn't get you more votes, it gets you less. I doubt they will learn anything from the elections of 2010 and no doubt will not learn anything from their reactions to the events in Tuscon.
The divide between this strain of the American left and its conservative opponents is about more than politics and policy. It goes back a long way, it is deep, and it will never be bridged. It is cultural, and it explains more than anything the "intensity" that exists now between these two competing camps. (The independent laments: "Can't we all just get along?" Answer: No.)
The Rosetta Stone that explains this tribal divide is Columbia historian Richard Hofstadter's classic 1964 essay, "The Paranoid Style in American Politics." Hofstadter's piece for Harper's may be unfamiliar to many now, but each writer at the opening of this column knows by rote what Hofstadter's essay taught generations of young, left-wing intellectuals about conservatism and the right.
After Hofstadter, the American right wasn't just wrong on policy. Its people were psychologically dangerous and undeserving of holding authority for any public purpose. By this mental geography, the John Birch Society and the tea party are cut from the same backwoods cloth.
"American politics has often been an arena for angry minds," Hofstadter wrote. "In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority."