I don’t have much to say about the assassination attempt on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and I was pretty restrained on Saturday – unlike, apparently, lots of folks, who have been twisting themselves in knots trying to tie Jared Lee Loughner around the necks of their opponents.
No one, so far, has claimed he’s an Islamic extremist, so…yay?
Giffords was shot (six others were killed and another thirteen injured) by someone who is quite clearly mentally ill. Talk about “bulls-eyes” and “targeting” didn’t make him pull the trigger (but thanks, NRA, for making it so easy for a mentally ill person to get a 30-round clip to increase his killing efficiency), so people should let go of that.
However, even if reckless speech doesn’t cause violence, it’s still, well, reckless. Just because it gets people riled up to talk about death panels and threats to liberty posed by someone who thinks more people should have health care coverage doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to do so, if you are, allegedly, a grownup. (I’m happy to consider the liberal equivalent of these comments – but it has to be by someone with actual power and influence, and not a commenter on some random blog, So far, I’m hard pressed to come up with one.)
John Stewart said it best (about 5:00 in):
I do think it’s a worthwhile goal not to conflate our political opponents with enemies, if for no other reason than to draw a better distinction between the manifestos of paranoid madmen and what passes for acceptable political and pundit speech. It would be really nice if the ramblings of crazy people didn’t in any way resemble how we talk to each other on TV.
Dare to dream. Also, John Kerry:
Many observers have already reduced this tragedy to simple questions of whether overheated rhetoric is to blame, or one partisan group or another. And surely today many pundits and politicians are measuring their words a little more carefully and thinking a little more about what they’re saying. But in the weeks and months ahead, the real issue we need to confront isn’t just what role divisive political rhetoric may have played on Saturday – but it’s the violence divisive, overly simplistic dialogue does to our democracy every day.
In the wake of this weekend’s tragedy, Speaker Boehner was right to suspend the House’s usual business; the question now is whether we’re all going to suspend and then end business as usual in the United States Capitol. Because even before this event shook us out of our partisan routine, it should have been clear that on bedrock questions of civility and consensus– discourse and democracy – the whole endeavor of building a politics of national purpose – the big question wasn’t whose rhetoric was right or wrong, but whether our political conversation was worthy of the confidence and trust of the American people.
That’s it, exactly. We deserve so much better. I can hope, fervently, that this tragedy bends the discourse curve a little closer to civility and reason. But I’ve lived long enough to know that’s not the way to bet.
P.S. Apparently Roger Ailes is jumping on the civility bandwagon. I hope he wiped his shoes off first.