In the months leading up to last year’s mid-term elections, Tea Party candidate Sharon Angle floated the idea of using “Second Amendment remedies” for dealing with Congress. Sarah Palin ran a controversial ad encouraging her Tea Party followers to “target” several Representatives: “reload” and “aim” were the “metaphors” used by Palin and her Tea Party disciples. Among her targets was Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ). Giffords won her seat, narrowly defeating Tea Partier Jesse Kelly. Kelly ran equally provocative ads in his campaign to beat the Democratic Giffords.
This morning, while holding an open forum with her constituents in the parking lot of a Safeway food store, Giffords was shot point blank in the head with what is believed to be a semi-automatic gun. Others were wounded and killed in the attack on Giffords, including a federal judge. As of this writing, Giffords is out of surgery, and in critical condition. Hospital spokesmen are, at this point, optimistic about Giffords’ chances for recovery.
Are Kelly and Palin directly responsible? No, of course not. But the problem with Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Rep. Michelle Bachman and others with public profiles who preach hate while vilifying those with other political views as “evil” and “Godless” is that other people don’t understand hyperbole.
Some people take this stuff seriously. They take seriously perceived missions to “target” public officials (and others) for their political beliefs, whether that means hurling rocks though a Congressman’s district window, brandishing weapons at political rallies—or opening fire at a Congresswoman’s constituent gathering. When public figures warn that “second amendment” solutions will be brought to bear, and elected representatives are attacked when they are on “the other side” it is time to pause and ask ourselves where we are as a nation.
We do not, at this point, know much about the gunman. He has been identified as Jared Lee Loughner, a young man with a seemingly pretty parnaoid view of goverment. Was he inspired to action or somehow influenced by the incendiary anti-goverment (and anti-Administration) rhetoric that tries very hard to shout down more responsible political discourse? (And unfortunately, yes, that does more often come from the Right.) Was Loughner, in his mind, taking “Second Amendment” actions he believed necessary?
This moment should give us all pause. Civility has long been eroding from public discourse. It has gotten much worse, over the last two years. Perhaps what we should all take from today’s tragedy in Tucson, is that it’s time to hit pause on the inflamatory rhetoric and demonization of poliltical opponents. Because if we don’t, today’s tragedy surely won’t be the last.