By Jeff Kazmierski, Copy Editor
Today, our nation is in mourning. On Saturday afternoon, on a clear Arizona day, a lone gunman opened fire on a small crowd gathered to meet their elected representative. Eighteen people were hurt in the attack, six of whom have since died, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona’s 8th District, lies in a hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to the head.
This is a terrible tragedy, not just for Arizona, but for the entire country. This is not how politics in America is supposed to work. We are supposed to engage each other on the battlefields of ideas and policy. Negotiation and statecraft are our tools. Guns and violence aren’t supposed to be a part of it. Saturday’s tragic events are a reminder that for some, politics is just war by other means. The distinction between words and weapons is merely academic.
The events are also a tragic reminder of how words have consequences. It would be all too easy to blame the incident on a single deranged gunman and to a certain degree that would be correct. There have always been unstable people in society, and predicting what they will do or how they will react is nearly impossible. We can know, however, that unstable people are out there, and be careful how we frame our political speech.
In the two years since the 2008 presidential election, political rhetoric in America has been charged with violent imagery of revolution, hatred and even assassination. People in positions of influence and authority have, all too often, been the worst offenders.
During last year’s election, congressional candidate Sharron Angle hinted at “Second Amendment remedies,” former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin infamously posted a map of the country on her Facebook page, featuring crosshairs overlaying Democratic districts, and Fox commentator Glenn Beck “joked” about slipping poison to the speaker of the house. These words are not funny. They are threats, and cannot be considered protected political speech. They have consequences, and Saturday we found out what those consequences are.
Those who enjoy the public spotlight have responsibilities. As long as we continue to tolerate and even encourage the rhetoric of hate, violence and insurrection that has been flowing from them freely for so long, we make a mockery of our system of government and the First Amendment. You can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater and then blame the crowd for choosing to panic.
America is better than this. We must show the world we can live up to our own high ideals. This must stop. And it must stop now.