Politicians and pundits are tripping over each other to pronounce themselves shocked, shocked over the attempted assassination of an elected Member of Congress and the killing and wounding of several of her constituents at a public event in Tucson yesterday. Why should they be shocked? This is just the natural consequence of the irrational hate speech that is the prevalent means of communication in a certain quarter of our political landscape these days. If you are in any doubt as to which quarter I am referring to, it is the far, far right - those people whose heroes are folks like Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and the multi-billionaires like the Koch brothers who finance and manipulate the tea partiers.
When these people constantly urge their followers "don't retreat, reload," or admonish them to take "Second Amendment remedies," or say things like, "If ballots don't work, bullets will!", what exactly did they expect to happen? Oh, no, no, it's just political rhetoric, hyperbole to fire up the base, they will say. But people in the public eye have a responsibility to remember that there are some extremely disturbed people out there, and since our culture so worships the gun that we refuse to put any regulations on its purchase and use, these crazy people have free access to semiautomatic weapons that can kill and maim tens of people in a matter of seconds. Including sitting Congresswomen who were freely elected by the people of their district.
The recent campaign which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords won was, by all accounts, a particularly nasty one. Her Tea Party opponent, Jesse Kelly, urged his followers to "get on target for victory," to "shoot a fully automatic M16," and to "remove Gabrielle Giffords from office." Did her would-be assassin hear those words and heed them?
This is not the first time that violence had been perpetrated against this Congresswoman. After she courageously voted for the health care reform bill last year, a door was shattered at her headquarters. Before the vote, someone had dropped a gun at one of her constituent meetings in Arizona and recently a suspicious package (that is still being investigated) was received at her Tucson office. She constantly receives threats and hate mail, as do many in Congress, especially those on the Democratic side of the aisle.
For those who would say that such hate speech occurs equally on both sides - and some conservative pundits will - I would challenge them to provide examples of liberals advocating violence and urging their supporters to "reload" and "shoot a fully automatic M16," because if "ballots don't work" to remove your opponents from office, "bullets will."
It is time that the perpetrators of this kind of speech were held accountable. Free speech is one thing, but incitement to violence, to riot, and to the violent overthrow of the government is another. Decent people need to draw the line and show these haters that they will no longer be tolerated.
Can we do it? Yes. Will we do it? Doubtful. Probably the moment will pass and we will all go back to business as usual and Rush and Glenn and O'Reilly will continue to be allowed to spew their hatred over the airwaves.
By the way, of all the poignant and tragic circumstances of yesterday's event, perhaps the most ironic was this: A nine-year-old girl was one of the murdered ones. She was born on September 11, 2001. She died January 8, 2011, her short life bookended by terrorist attacks.