Why so few US assassinations?

As I think through the Giffords shooting, and the seemingly obvious conclusion that her attacker was a delusional nutball who existed in an alternate reality beyond politics, I find that an interesting question pops into my head: why aren’t there more political assassinations in the United States? There’s no doubt that political vitriol seems to be at an unusually high point (not the high point — there’s little thing called the Civil War.) I hear stories of families being torn apart by political differences. You don’t have to look far on the web to see videos of political opponents screaming at each other, or bloggers referring to politicians they don’t like as scum completely devoid of humanity. I, for the most part, used to enjoy political conversations, but now I’m loath to be part of anything even remotely resembling one.

If people are so fired up, why haven’t we seen an honest-to-goodness politically motivated assassination? To put it another way: millions of people, largely on the left, thought that President Bush planned and orchestrated the attacks of 9/11 to get us into the Iraq war. You’d think one of them would’ve decided to take a shot at Bush, if only to enact some kind of justice. These days, there seem to be millions of people on the right who think Obama is a Kenyan, Muslim socialist who’s taken the reins of the most powerful nation on earth. Shouldn’t someone be trying to take him out?

However, the Giffords attack was seemingly motivated by insanity, not political rage. The only presidential assassination attempt in my life was Hinckley’s attempt on Reagan, and Hinckley was a complete nut job. Who else comes to mind? Harvey Milk? That seems more personal than political (with some dollops of homophobia), and even that assassin got off by literally using the insanity (Twinkie) defense.

Now, there is one obvious retort to this. Maybe there are tons of people who would like to assassinate presidents and political leaders but, let’s be honest, it’s not easy.

But I suspect the main reason is this. Comfort. During my 20s in Seattle, I had innumerable wannabe Marxists tell me how the coming revolution would unseat the bourgeois and provide for the wants and needs of the lower class. And my argument against this was always that while the lower class in America may not be rich, they’re doing all right. They’re basically comfortable with their microwave foods, heating and air-conditioning and booze — they’d have a lot more to lose than to gain by joining an armed insurrection against government (one almost certainly doomed, I might add.) The same is true with political assassination. No matter how much you think a politician is a war monger or fraud, nobody wants to give up their comfortable life to assassinate them. You’d have to be crazy to do it.

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