We have been living in a highly polarized political climate. In that environment, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others were shot outside of a grocery store where the Congresswoman held an event Saturday afternoon in Tucson, Arizona.
After the attack on the Congresswoman, many people are coming forward asking for more civility in our political discourse. Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks said that we need to be more tolerant of each other and opposing viewpoints. "True tolerance is not pretending to have no differences. It's being kind and decent to each other in spite of those differences.... Ultimately, if we don't have a more loving respect for each other we really have no hope as a society."
In a press conference Saturday night, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik suggested that radio and TV vitriol could have been a factor in the killing spree in Arizona Saturday that left Congresswoman Giffords severely injured, a federal judge and five others dead, and a dozen more wounded.
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Sheriff Dupnik said. "And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Sheriff Dupnik continued: "all the vitriol we hear inflaming the American public by people who make a living off of doing that. That may be free speech." He continued by saying that vitriol and political rhetoric "is not without consequence."
The loss of nine-year old Christina Green's life was one of those consequences Saturday in Arizona. Christina Green was just elected to her school's student council and was invited to an event by a neighbor and lost her life in this senseless shooting.
"Anger and hate fuel reactions," said Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, whose Arizona district also includes parts of Tucson. He was not assessing blame, but said the nation must assess the fallout of "an atmosphere where the political discourse is about hate, anger and bitterness ."
"While we do not know the motives for today's attack, we do know that it cannot be viewed apart from the climate of violence and the degradation of civil society that are anathema to democracy," said the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
We watched the rhetoric reach a fever pitch during the health care debate. People showing up with guns to town hall meetings. There was also a lack of civility for an opposing point of view at these town hall meetings. Congressional offices were vandalized.
The lack of respect for opposing point of view begins with the media and political commentators and extends to our elected representatives. Representative Joe Wilson yelled "You lie!" to the President during an address to Congress. In recent days, we have seen protestors do the same in Congress. Why? Because if Representative Joe Wilson can yell at the President of the United States, then Jane Smith can yell about the President while Congress is in session.
The media also has to be more responsible for what it puts out in the public realm and what is sensationalized. The media may have the right to report from a certain point of view- Fox News and MSNBC are two examples from both sides- but it also has a duty to do so responsibility. Political commentators on these channels must stop equating political disagreement with political Armageddon.
Our political leaders are also guilty of dialing up the rhetoric. There are plenty of Joe Wilsons out there. Sarah Palin used crosshairs in targeting 20 Democratic representatives that she wanted to defeat in the 2010 midterm elections. Gabrielle Giffords was one of those representatives. After being criticized for using such a depiction, Sarah Palin defended it saying those words were used all the time. The use of crosshairs in political campaigns can have severe, albeit unintended, consequences.
"We're on Sarah Palin's targeted list," Congresswoman Giffords said at the time. "The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there are consequences to that action."
You can disagree agreeably. The country must learn to work together and agree to disagree about certain things. It sounds like a nonstarter, but it isn't. Much of what we see on television is political theater. Republicans and Democrats on Capital Hill, although they yell at each other on the Sunday morning talk shows, are in many cases friends.
Yet, the tone on cable news and talk radio gets all of us so angry, that it is impossible to discuss politics civilly with an opponent. It can't be that way. The idea that our political opponent hates our country has to stop. Our elected representatives have the responsibility to tell the public when a statement is false. You saw it during the 2008 presidential election. When an ignorant woman started her rant by calling Senator Obama an "Arab", Senator McCain cut her short and defended him, stating that he was an honorable, family man that he had policy disagreements with. That's the tone we need to have.
Using crosshairs to point out democrats that need to be defeated after stating that its necessary to "reload rather than retreat" is irresponsible and has to stop. Language has consequences.
Sarah Palin is not responsible for the actions of a deranged individual in Arizona. However, some of her "commentary" is an example of the type of irresponsible discourse that must be reconsidered.
It's not just Sarah Palin. Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olberman are all guilty of demonizing political opponents. We have to start over and accept we are all Americans. We all love our country. Although he claims it, Sean Hannity does not love this country any more than you or I. Be responsible with commentary. Stop claiming opponents hate our country. Accusations thrown about hoping something sticks, intending to inflame viewers can cause unstable people to do stupid things. An assassination attempt could be viewed as a glorious undertaking when the target has been characterized as destroying America.
How many times has President Obama and Democrats been accused of destroying America?
Enough is enough. It was time to dial down the rhetoric years ago. Hopefully in the wake of this tragedy, our representatives and commentators will change the tone of our debate.
Don't stop the debate. But it's time to change the tone.