One week ago, a 22-year-old loner named Jared Loughner gunned down six people and wounded 14 more at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' "meet-and-greet" in Tucson.
Before the victims' blood was dry, the chattering classes and many in the news media had placed Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and the Tea Party in the dock -- accusing them, in essence, of being accomplices to this heinous mass murder.
The charges ranged from allegations that Palin had "targeted" Giffords on a preelection map to claims that Arizona had encouraged Loughner's rampage by enforcing immigration laws.
The claims came to this: Conservatives had created a rhetorical "climate of hate" that somehow induced this madman's rampage.
It wasn't just MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and other inflammatory left-wing commentators who advanced this accusation, which was unsupported by a shred of evidence.
Unfortunately for the theory's purveyors, it quickly became clear that Loughner is both apolitical and mentally deranged.
Apparently, he's a fan of both Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler, fears mind control through "grammar," and terrified his classmates before being kicked out of college. Psychologically, he appears to resemble the Virginia Tech shooter or workplace mass murderers, not a politically motivated assassin.
Yet I've seen no apologies from the Times or the liberal establishment for the slanders they so glibly leveled against their conservative adversaries. In fact, one of this tragedy's most instructive aspects is what it has revealed about our chattering classes.
Byron York of the Washington Examiner pointed this out the day after the shootings. He contrasted the liberal establishment's rush to judgment in Tucson with its cautionary reaction to the slaying of 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
Within hours of that crime, it was known that the suspect, Nidal Hasan, had written Internet postings lauding Muslim suicide bombings and had reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" as he fired.
Yet media and political figures repeatedly urged Americans not to "jump to conclusions" that Hasan's attack had any connection to Islam. Their reaction to mass murder, it seems, is closely tied to the identity of its perpetrators and victims.
In pushing its "right-wing climate of fear" narrative, the mainstream media turned a blind eye to the left's rhetorical excesses. No need to mention that left-wing blogger Markos Moulitsas had "bulls-eyed" Giffords in 2008 because she wasn't sufficiently liberal. No need to repeat President Obama's 2008 remark about Republicans: "If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun." There was silence about the left's "Bush hatred"; about "Bush lied, people died"; about a Toronto film award for a movie envisioning the president's assassination. Where the left was concerned, instead of admonishing about a "climate of hate," liberal pundits assured us that dissent is the highest form of patriotism.
Most ironically, the liberal establishment used the Tucson shootings to issue sanctimonious calls for "civility" while simultaneously accusing their ideological opponents of complicity in murder. It's hard to imagine a graver slander.
What explains this?
I suspect our opinionmaking elite was tempted by what appeared an opportunity to put conservatives on the defensive after liberals' humiliating defeat at the polls in November.
The shootings seemed to offer a chance to raise Obama in the polls, to hobble Republicans' campaign to repeal Obamacare and to control political content on the airwaves.
More fundamentally, I suggest, the reaction flows from something deeper -- from the very DNA of "progressivism." It's the tendency to ascribe the worst of intentions and motives to those who disagree with liberal views.
One of liberalism's fundamental tenets is the assumption (rarely articulated) that human beings -- when led by the best and brightest -- have the capacity to shape the world to their liking.
If the world remains imperfect, in this view, it's not because a perfect society is beyond us -- as conservatism and the American founders have held. It's because someone is standing in the way -- someone who doesn't "care," or who has evil intentions.
From this perspective, people who disagree with liberal positions are not just mistaken, they are wicked.
This explains the liberal tendency to view those who disagree as motivated by animus or "hate" -- as racist, sexist or homophobic. We see a reflexive insistence on a "climate of hate," not only with regard to the Tucson murders, but also with opposition to illegal immigration and attempts to redefine marriage.
The Tucson tragedy rips the veil away from the opinionmaking class, and from much of the mainstream media. In an unguarded moment, they revealed that ideology trumps facts in their quest for power. They put their biases on display for all to see.
Katherine Kersten is a Twin Cities writer and speaker. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.