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MailTribune.com
  • Shooting reaction misses the mark

    The tragedy in Tucson was not the result of any inflammatory political rhetoric
  • Given the nasty, even violent, tone of political rhetoric these days, it was understandable when some assumed the man who wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others and killed six was in some way prompted to act by that rhetoric. Understandable, but wrong.
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  • Given the nasty, even violent, tone of political rhetoric these days, it was understandable when some assumed the man who wounded Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 13 others and killed six was in some way prompted to act by that rhetoric. Understandable, but wrong.
    At the same time, the lack of any apparent connection between overheated political speech and Saturday's tragedy in Tucson does not mean Americans should tolerate vicious rhetoric in the public sphere.
    As more details of Saturday's tragedy emerged and the alleged shooter's motivations came into sharper focus, it became clear that this was the act of a severely disturbed individual who couldn't have articulated a rational motive for his crime if he had tried.
    All available evidence indicates the reason for this attack was one person's mental illness, not anything he might have read on the Internet, heard on talk radio or watched on cable television.
    Jared Lee Loughner, 22, is charged with murder and attempted murder of federal employees in connection with Saturday's massacre. He is describe by friends and classmates as a social outcast with incoherent delusions of government conspiracy.
    He believed the U.S. government was behind 9/11, and was convinced there was a secret plan to create an international "New World Order currency" so social elites and bureaucrats could control the rest of humanity.
    As news reports of the shooting began to emerge from Arizona, too many leaped to blame the incident on right-wing campaigns against Democrats in general and Giffords and others in particular. Some pointed to Sarah Palin's Internet posts in the lead-up to the November midterm election, "targeting" specific Democratic House members on a map with gun sight cross hairs marking their districts, including Giffords'.
    Others noted statements from tea party activists and candidates implying a desire for armed rebellion against the government. Sharron Angle, the Republican trying to unseat Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, talked of "Second-Amendment remedies."
    Rep. Giffords was attacked for her support of health care reform, and her district office was vandalized. Other members of Congress saw their offices damaged as well, and some said they felt threatened in public meetings with their own constituents. Some received actual threats against themselves and their families.
    That is not how a civilized democracy dedicated to the rule of law conducts its public affairs.
    Demonizing one's opponents is nothing new in politics. But the animosity has reached a level not seen in recent memory.
    Giffords herself discussed this phenomenon in an interview on MSNBC last spring after her office was vandalized.
    Those in public life who enjoy the privilege of seeing their words disseminated widely need to take some responsibility for the tone of those words. Leaders of political parties and organizations should be the first to criticize their own supporters when their rhetoric gets out of hand.
    Loughner was by all accounts a mentally disturbed individual who picked a convenient target, not a tool of militant political rhetoric.
    But that does not excuse those responsible for lowering public discourse to the level of thinly veiled threats of armed rebellion. And it does not excuse those in power who allow that rhetoric to go unchallenged.
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