01/12/2011 05:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

No Known Link Between Right-Wing Rhetoric and Tucson Tragedy

When someone who habitually drinks to excess vomits from the flu, it's not an indication he threw up from drinking too much. Though it would likely be beneficial for him to curtail his imbibing, it's not a good time to make that point.

Telling him then anyway, and expecting a favorable response, is like using the Tucson tragedy as an excuse to scold right-wingers, and expecting them to see the light.

Just as we know various catalysts can induce and intensify nausea, we know there are various factors that could predictably or unpredictably exacerbate mental illness. Unlike some known contributors, the rhetoric of right-wing pundits and politicians has never been documented as a cause of violent behavior. Therefore, one who alleges that Sarah Palin and her ilk provoked the Tucson tragedy, must -- to be convincing -- come up with some supporting evidence.

The failure to cite such evidence is the failure to distinguish between potential and actual consequences.

Some who had already been insisting right-wing rhetoric is dangerous, mistakenly believe their argument was enhanced by the shooting in Tucson. But the only thing that was enhanced is the public's receptivity to the argument. Although right-wing rhetoric is indeed condemnable when it's reckless, none of it has any apparent connection to Jared Lee Loughner's behavior.

Even if evidence later surfaces that Loughner snapped as a result of something a conservative commentator said, it will not excuse Sheriff Clarence Dupnik for having announced that conclusion prematurely. Although it's refreshing to hear a thoughtful and compassionate lawman promote something other than the death penalty or building more jails, Dupnik is starting to remind me of Rudy Giuliani. Who can forget how "America's Mayor" provided us with more comfort than we actually needed when he gave countless interviews for months after 9/11? It almost seemed as if Giuliani were doing it more for himself than us. It couldn't be!

It's ironic the ubiquitous sheriff from Arizona complained it's "irresponsible" for Rush Limbaugh to dispense "partial... sometimes wrong information," given that Dupnik himself could be similarly admonished for having repeatedly and baselessly suggested Loughner was influenced by conservative trash talk. Moreover, how many critiques of the media do we need from a cop? As it's not part of his job description to speculate, philosophize or share pet peeves, Dupnik should probably save his musings for a book.

Those who would censor obnoxious commentary, are blinded by good intentions. Speech restrictions are no less oppressive when imposed to promote civility. It's just one form of bullying used to combat another.

If there were real evidence that right-wing hyperbole incites violence, the worrywarts wouldn't be relying so heavily on a fantasy about Jared Lee Loughner.

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Watch Diane Sawyer somehow coax Sheriff Dupnik out of his shell: