If there is one good thing that comes out of last week’s tragedy in Tucson, it’s that the rhetoric and hatred that has pervaded this country for the last decade will be toned down.
That was the overriding theme of the past week.
So far, we’re not off to a great start.
After six people were killed and 14 wounded — including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords — by a lunatic gunman in Tucson, those on the left immediately began blaming the right, Republicans pointed fingers back toward Democrats, and Sarah Palin pretty much hid behind her crosshairs, preferring to blame the media instead.
Talk radio hyperbole and outlandish website comments only added fuel to the inferno that has become American politics. Comments from Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, Surprise Rep. Jack Harper and other politicians took the vitriol even further.
Wonderful. Instead of bringing us together, it’s having the opposite effect.
But here’s the thing: We need to talk about these things.
In the aftermath of such a tragedy, there are questions that need to be asked, issues that need to be addressed.
Are there warning signings with unstable people like Jared Loughner that can be addressed before something terrible happens?
Are there issues with gun magazine capacity or concealed weapons that can be talked about without trampling all over the Second Amendment?
Does public safety need to be a bigger concern for local police when politicians are conducting business on street corners or in town halls or public forums?
We’re not saying something has to be done about any of these issues. But we should at least be talking about them. That’s the foundation this country was built upon.
And we need to be able to talk about them civilly without every political conversation turning into a civil war. Yes, people have very different ideologies. Yes, they’re passionate about those philosophies. And, yes, the First Amendment guarantees people can say just about anything they want (it even guarantees extremist organizations like the Westboro Baptist Church have the right to picket at 9-year-old Christina Green’s funeral).
But that doesn’t mean they have to.
And let’s be clear: There’s absolutely nothing to indicate that hate speech and political rhetoric and crosshairs are the cause of what happened in Tucson. One crazed lunatic with no respect for human life is responsible for that.
But you’re naive if you believe the political discourse in this country hasn’t deteriorated to dangerous levels.
In 2010, the number of significant threats directed at U.S. senators increased to 49 from 29 in 2009, according to the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms.
Giffords, a Democrat whose stance on health care and immigration have put her at odds with many Arizonans, has had previous run-ins with the public. Last March, after the health care bill was passed, the windows of her Tucson office were broken by vandals. In August 2009, a protestor at one of Giffords’ events was removed by police when a pistol he had holstered under his armpit fell to the floor.
It’s not all negative, though.
The sentiments expressed by Gov. Jan Brewer and Arizona House Speaker Kirk Adams this past week have struck the right tone and are good examples to follow.
And regardless of what you think of President Obama or his policies, his speech on Wednesday — albeit awkward at a memorial service — provided an inspirational and important message:
“If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”