Alas, I have lived long enough to witness far too many of these incidents; John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, as well as attempts on the lives of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. And this does not even include the Oklahoma City bombing, the first attempt on the World Trade Center, or the horrific attack on 9/11 which were acts of evil on a completely different level.
There are those who will say that these assassinations on Saturday are the signs of turbulent times, though the history of the United States is one of turbulence in itself. There are those who will say that the tenor of our rhetoric is a causation, though political rhetoric has always been heated and is no more so today than it has been in our past.
Liberals blast Palin and 'rhetoric' following AZ shooting
When a congresswoman is shot in the head in the very act of democracy, we should all pause. This is fundamentally not a partisan issue and should not be. Acts of violence against political figures destroy democracy itself, for both parties. We don't know who tried to kill congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (she appears to be still alive) and we should be very cautious in drawing any conclusions yet about why. But we can know that, whoever tried to kill her and for whatever reason, political rhetoric involving words like "target" and "gun-sights" is inherently irresponsible.
Keep in mind that, at this point, Jared Loughner's name was being misspelled by some of the media, and he was being described as an "Afghanistan war veteran", yet Sullivan had already alluded to Palin's "irresponsible" imagery as (at least) contributory.
Was this 2004 "targeting" map (below)from a Democratic Leadership Committee website "irresponsible"? I don't think so; political campaigns have always used the "words of war" - the word "campaign" itself is a military term. The false sanctimony is what I find offensive.
During the ensuing days, the baseless accusations grew, becoming a hateful tool to disparage opponents, discredit political speech, and to even raise campaign money:
Even the Sheriff who is investigating the case has chosen to get into the act:
Arizona Sheriff Blasts Rush Limbaugh for Spewing 'Irresponsible' Vitriol
The Arizona sheriff investigating the Tucson shooting that left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded had harsh words today for those engaging in political rhetoric, calling conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh "irresponsible" for continuing the vitriol.
"The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information," Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said today. "[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences."
Clearly, the sheriff has some personal animus agaist Rush Limbaugh which is the only explanation for his picking his name out of thin air as a subject of scorn. The last time I heard, Limbaugh was not calling for violence of any kind, as has been the case for mainstream talk radio in general. As sheriff Dupnik lectures about responsibility, he may want to reflect on his own lack thereof in making political statements amidst a murder investigation that he is directing.
Rest assured that retreat from this sorry spectacle has already begun, but it's a perfect example of, as Mark Twain said "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes". Alas, false accusations have a nasty way of sticking, even when the facts are made clear.
The sad truth is that all of the sermonizing about "irresponsibility" has been done in the most irresponsible, vicious, and libelous manner imaginable. Meritless attacks have been made against people for the sole purpose of soiling their reputation by portraying them as virtual "un-indicted co-conspirators", thus rendering whatever they say as suspect.
There is not a single outlet or pundit, on radio, print or internet, who is promoting violence against anyone on either side of the political spectrum. Even in "comments" sections, allusions or incitements to violence of any kind are disallowed and deleted by any outlet or site than is even remotely reputable.
This is politics by innuendo and yellow journalism at its very worst.
Where were these "responsible" jounalists and politicians when regular rallies were being held with scores of placards were being carried with images of President George W. Bush with gunsights and super imposed bullet holes on his head - for eight years? Have we forgotten that Bush was regularly characterized as Hitler with nary a peep of condemnation as the pictures of protesters paraded across our screens? Was there outrage when ABC's Julianne Malveaux stated of Justice Clarence Thomas, "I hope his wife feeds him lots of eggs and butter and he dies early like many black men do, of heart disease....He is an absolutely reprehensible person."?
Where were the denunciations of "a call to murder" when (then) Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-PA made this exhortation regarding Rick Scott (R) on October 23, 2010?
"That Scott down there that's running for governor of Florida," Mr. Kanjorski said. "Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him. He stole billions of dollars from the United States government and he's running for governor of Florida. He's a millionaire and a billionaire. He's no hero. He's a damn crook. It's just we don't prosecute big crooks."
Mr. Kanjorski lost his reelection bid, but it did not stop him from, in the wake of the AZ shooting, waxing philosophically about the need for civil discourse in The New York Times:
"We all lose an element of freedom when security considerations distance public officials from the people. Therefore, it is incumbent on all Americans to create an atmosphere of civility and respect in which political discourse can flow freely, without fear of violent confrontation."
Ah yes. Now he's the poster boy for civility.
During the Bush years, dissent was "the highest form of patriotism", today, it is considered "hate speech" (depending on the speaker, of course). The tenor of our discourse has not changed; only the subject has. In terms of presidential "dissent", it has become far more civilized in the last two years than it was during the previous eight.
If we are to live in fear that an unbalanced individual may misunderstand pointed speech, then what other types of exhortations should we look to temper? Passionate sermons from the pulpit? Zealous sports talk radio shows? Spirited lectures at universities? Could not any one of these drive a weak minded, delusional, motivated individual to violent action?
These United States have always had a rough and tumble manner of politics; it's part of our history and national charcter. One need only look at pamphlets, political cartoons and editorials from the 18th and 19th century to see that gentility has never been a major part of our electoral system.
The point to remember though, is that power has passed from party to party, peacefully and without incident for 235 years. The murderous incident of January 8, 2010 is a tragic anomoly, surely not indiginous to the American political system, or a result of the tone of our discourse.
Let us not allow a yet-misunderstood act of senseless violence erode our right to speak our minds, freely.