In the wake of Arizona tragedy, political rhetoric heats up

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

After the tragic events in Tuscon this weekend — and the heated debate that followed over who’s at fault  — it is time to take a step back, stop the political rhetoric and think about the real story here.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head (and as of this writing, has miraculously survived) along with 20 other people gathered at a town-hall style meeting in her Arizona district. Unfortunately, six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, a minister, a congressional aide and three elderly citizens.

Giffords was doing exactly what the constituents of Arizona’s 8th District elected her to do – meeting with them to learn about their priorities, then represent them accordingly in Washington, D.C.  Saturday’s meeting was her first “Congress on Your Corner” since the November election, though she had held numerous, similar events since her first term, starting in early 2007.

While commentators and talking heads have acknowledged the tragic loss of six lives and the medical battle Giffords faces, too much of the discussion has been focused on determining who to blame.

Immediately, news pundits and citizens jumped into overdrive to connect the suspected shooter, 22-year old Jared Loughner, to the right, even floating one theory that he may have been influenced by Sarah Palin’s misguided election cycle campaign to target certain Democratic districts. In it, her team used crosshairs to identify congressional districts that GOP candidates needed to win, listing the names of 20 elected officials, including Giffords.

Palin’s map is, to say the least, in poor taste. But is it incendiary?

No one yet knows what made Jared Loughner pull the trigger. His Facebook, Myspace and blog entries ramble about a new form of currency and the poor grammar practiced by people living in Arizona’s 8th district (in a post that, oddly enough, is riddled with grammatical errors). His favorite books are all over the map, including Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Brave New World, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and Animal Farm, though there may be a common thread in looking for a societal model he could latch onto. He may have had a problem with the government’s response to illegal immigrants — a problem ignored by both Republicans or Democrats. He might, as some have suggested, indeed have been agitated by the heated tenor of our nation’s political rhetoric. He may suffer from depression or delusions: We just don’t know.

But Loughner’s specific motives can be discussed at a later time. Now we should focus our thoughts, prayers and efforts on Giffords, the wounded, and on the families of those killed. And if anything good can come of it, perhaps this senseless tragedy is an opportunity to bring the dialog between the two political sides down a notch (or five) and focus on what really matters: the health and future of our country.

This shooting was a message to all of us, whether we are on the Left or Right, to realize that words and actions do have consequences. The political discourse in all levels of politics has degenerated into a proverbial contest of who can prove the other side wrong. Both sides are to blame; we are all to blame when we forget that we can disagree on the issues without personally attacking the other side, or threatening real or metaphoric violence.

Government officials need to focus on discussing the issues, not fighting each other like lions over fresh kill. We need to stop the political fighting and learn to respect each others opinions, tone down our own rhetoric around the water cooler and across the dinner table and realize we are all in this together.

While Loungher shot the gun, we all helped load the bullets. Now is the time to put all weapons aside, and get to work to move our country — and our culture — forward.

Even though I disagree with Keith Olbermann 99.9% of the time, his comments on this event are right on the mark.

All photos of Congresswoman Giffords are from her congressional website.



One thought on “In the wake of Arizona tragedy, political rhetoric heats up

  1. There have been deadly riots in central Asia a few times in the past couple of years after American evangelists tossed off a few poorly worded remarks about Muhammed that Muslims considered sacriligious. Words are cheap but lives are dear; gotta be more careful, people.

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