Jared Lee Loughner may turn out to be certifiably mad. But it bears mentioning that the entire United States of America lately has shown signs of a low-grade lunacy - call it a willful inability to deal with reality.
Because we can't face the complicated great world, we entertain ourselves with a political parlor game called "conservatives versus progressives."
After Sept. 11, as I recall, it took Rush Limbaugh only two days to switch from a discussion of our foreign enemies to his mocking attacks on the failures of "liberals." Surely, for his listeners, there was something comforting in being able to hear their Rush rehearse his familiar domestic script at a time when, clearly, there was another script in the world in a language Americans did not understand.
So, too, now: Within minutes of last weekend's carnage in Tucson, Americans were blogging in both directions - either pointing accusing fingers at Sarah Palin or deflecting accusations against her for her "hair trigger" Web page. After our national moment of mournful silence, we ended up arguing about Michael Savage and Keith Olbermann.
You would have thought, after Sept. 11, Americans would have engaged in a serious conversation about the price we pay for our involvement in the Middle East. What price should we or must we pay for supporting Israel? What should our relationship be with the royal House of Saud?
Instead, of course, Americans ended up on talk radio arguing about whether Barack Obama is a Muslim. Lately, Americans have argued on talk radio about whether or not it is safety that dictates aggressive pat-downs at the airport or it is the liberal agenda run amok, intruding on our privates.
I am about to make a point so simple that I am astonished few in what we used to call the American Left, have bothered to say it. In fact, it is corporate America that is profiting mightily from the uncivil war Americans are waging against each other. The real players in the game are up in the luxury boxes. And they are not named Glenn Beck or Jon Stewart. They are executives at News Corp. and GE and Disney and Comcast (which will soon own NBC).
The plain fact is that the fierce entertainment of our national life - conservatives versus liberals - will continue until the corporate big guys call a halt in the game.
In Arizona these last several years, Gov. Jan Brewer and other state worthies have been noisily preoccupied by Mexico - or at least our side of the U.S.-Mexico border. How to protect the state of Arizona from Mexican bandits and unwanted peasants? The sheriff in Phoenix is a regular on Fox News.
Fox News also sent the indomitable patriot, Sean Hannity, to the border to reinforce support for the valor of Minutemen who train their gaze southward. What Hannity did not discuss, during his stint on the border, was the way American drug addiction has destabilized various countries in the world, including Colombia, Afghanistan and, of course, Mexico.
Choosing to play their game of "liberals versus conservatives," Americans are not inclined to discuss what their drug addiction or Limbaugh's addiction, has done to the world. It is easier for Arizonans to be angry about Mexico.
Thus, too, Sarah Palin - paid by Fox News for her interviews - is disinclined to mention how unsafe Mexico has become because of right-wing support of the National Rifle Association. (The NRA, in order to protect our constitutional right to bear arms, is busy protecting the right of various tawdry gun shops along the border to sell arms to Mexican drug terrorists.)
If the Right is inclined to hero worship in comic-book America, the Left plays Sad Sack, entangled in a politics and upholding ideas that were worn out a generation ago.
For example, in Texas and Arizona, education officials have lately challenged the ethnic-centric schooling that passes as "education" in various American high schools with a largely Mexican American student body. Students are being schooled by their teachers in their own victimization. The students' "role models," and their historical view of America, always refer primarily and lastly to their own tribe. Of course, the excuse teachers give for such a parochial pedagogy is that Mexican American students need to develop a sense of "self-worth." It is an argument from the 1960s. And it feeds a delighted right-wing scorn.
The reason the Right is noisier than the Left in this strange game we are all forced to watch or hear is that the Right has big-balloon figures - shouting radio personalities and politicians with gams. The dour Left has no big balloons, just plenty of grump. Ironically, the Left ends up as obsessed as her devoted fans seem to be, albeit negatively, with a cartoon creature like Palin.
Which is where we find ourselves, after the carnage in Tucson - arguing about Palin. We are trapped in an American comic book, underwritten by big corporate money, with characters who shout or misspeak in bubbles of noise while the world spins out of control.