Julian E. Zelizer: Extremism is a Vice, Not a Virtue

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Julian E. Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter," published by Times Books, and editor of a book assessing former President George W. Bush's administration, published by Princeton University Press.]

Princeton, New Jersey (CNN) -- The mass shooting in Arizona has raised a political challenge for the Republican Party. Party leaders have spent the last few days rebutting charges from liberals that extreme rhetoric from the right had something to do with inspiring the rampage.

At this point, there is no evidence that the gunman went on his horrendous shooting spree as a result of political rhetoric from the right or the left.

The alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had enrolled as an independent voter. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, his apparent target, had been the focus of criticism from conservatives, particularly for her vote in support of President Obama's health care bill. The New York Times published a chilling article documenting the tension that had been brewing in her district, including vandalism at her local office (for which no one has been arrested) that had led her to fear the possibility of violence. She had also been criticized by liberals for being too centrist.

The shooting may have been the result of mental illness without any connection to recent political debates. But, given the political climate, it has immediately stimulated debate about the dangers of extremism in American politics....

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