Sunday, January 9, 2011

Incendiary Speech

Violent rhetoric has consequences.  And the politics of character assassination and personal destruction inevitably lead to outbursts or thuggery and hooliganism that threaten our democracy.

We saw it yesterday at a mall north of Tucson when a gunman opened fire at a “Congress on Your Corner” event, critically injuring Representative Gabrielle Giffords, killing a federal judge, a nine year old girl and at least three others.

Giffords had been targeted online by Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee, which featured a map of her Ar;izona district framed in rifle cross hairs with an exhortation to “take aim.”

Yes, Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter, was a troubled young man.  But he wasn’t acting in a vacuum.  He was operating in an environment where Gifford’s congressional opponent held an M-16 fundraiser, offering the chance to blast away with automatic weapons in return for campaign cash, and where Sharron Angle, running for Congress in nearby Nevada told a right-wing radio host last summer that “if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, ‘my goodness what can we do to turn this country around?’ I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

Naturally, yesterday’s gunfire has  been condemned by leaders on both sides of the aisle, Democrat and Republican.  But no one is taking responsibility for the kind of hateful, incendiary speech that ignites such vigilantism.  And as long as politicians like Palin are rewarded for shooting  from the lip, blood is likely to flow.

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