It now appears that Representative Gabrielle Giffords was the target of an assassination plot. The reasons are unknown, and it’s too early to claim categorically that the shooting of Ms. Giffords and the other victims was motivated by a political grievance. That said, it’s not hard to believe that the poisonous political climate of the last few years can move an unstable person to violence. Indeed, the past summer, featuring rage-filled shoutdowns at town hall meetings, gleefully promoted by Fox News and conservative talk show hosts, led to hundreds of threats against members of Congress. The poster symbol of the anger and intolerance may well be the map Sarah Palin posted on her website during the election, highlighting targeted Democratic congressional districts with crosshairs. Let me be clear that both parties have indulged all too often in language that debases the debate, but the preponderance of the anger and invective seems to come from the far right. Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik got it exactly right when he said, “To try to inflame the public on a daily basis 24 hours a day, seven days a week has impaqct on people, especially who are unbalanced personalities to begin with.” He called for us all to do some soul-searching.
Now, of course, the same folks who gloried in the over-the-top rhetoric, who infused the political debate with violent imagery, are shocked at the bloodshed. I’d like to believe that this event will force us all to reconsider how we conduct the political discourse in this country, but I suspect that, after a brief pause, we will go on as before. Too many pundits make their living stoking the public rage, and too many politicians have learned to capitalize on that anger. The mainstream politicians all responded with appropriate horror and sadness (as well they should, given the danger they are all exposed to), as did many of the Tea Party leaders. Then there was Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, whose immediate response to the carnage was this: “The hard left is going to try and silence the Tea Party movement by blaming us…The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words.”
So much for soul-searching.