Saturday, January 8, 2011

Arizona's tragedy is our tragedy

I'm still absorbing the profound impact of the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Griffiths (R-AZ) and 18 others at a public meeting with constituents outside a grocery store in Tuscon, Arizona. Six people are dead in the worst political assassination attempt our country has ever seen. 

This is not the kind of news I expected to wake up to this morning as I prepare to return to the States after two weeks abroad. I am grieving for our country. 

Shortly after President Obama was elected I ended up in a discussion on facebook with an old high school friend. The usual "socialist", "communist", "liberal elite" comments were bandied about before someone chimed in with a "second amendment solution" ... and an even more chilling comment that "we're headed for war". 

The right wing in our country was so unhinged over President Obama's election that some were apparently ready to take up arms to defend the union against the man who had captured the largest number of votes in U.S. electoral history and had captured the largest percentage of votes of any non-incumbent/non-sitting VP presidential candidate since Eisenhower. Obama's historic election was seen as a direct threat to our union. 

What was even more disturbing to me was that nobody else in that discussion thread stood up and chastised the poster for overheated rhetoric. I was the only one to do so. 

I'm not sure exactly how this happened, but our political discourse has begun seeing violence as an acceptable threat. 

Just in the past 18 months we've had:

- A gun dropped at a Griffiths town hall event

- Bricks thrown through the windows of Democratic campaign offices including that of Representative Griffiths. 

- A Senate candidate in neighboring Nevada, Sharon Angle, suggest a "second amendment remedies" might be needed if the tea party doesn't get its way.

- A certain right wing pseudo-politician's website put sharp shooter's targets on a map of the U.S. over Congressional districts she considered targets for the upcoming election. One of those districts belonged to Rep. Griffiths. 

- Griffiths' opponent in the 2010 midterm election hosting a campaign fundraiser at a shooting range where donors could shoot automatic weapons with the hopeful congressman

Now all early evidence suggests the young man who attempted to assassinate Rep. Griffiths was mentally unhinged. His YouTube videos were off the wall bizarre and the final video clearly intimates that he is going to initiate an act of violence.

However, the call for sanity from those who understand the dangers of overheated rhetoric predicted precisely this kind of scenario. Rational, sane people do not shoot elected officials at point blank range and then shoot 18 more people before being subdued after running out of ammunition. The concern was that the rhetoric would spur an insane person to carry out an act of violence. That's exactly what has happened. 

Our representative government is what makes us great. It's also what makes us vulnerable. It is time for the use of violent rhetoric in political discourse to stop. No excuses. Ever. 

Rest in peace to those who died today and I hope Representative Griffiths and the 12 other wounded victims make full recoveries. 

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