Maybe if everyone took a collective step back away from the partisan back and forth, some truths might emerge that many are afraid to openly admit. The entire nation should be coming together around this tragedy, but instead of realizing the magnitude of this evil and repenting our shared roles in the climate that produced it, we are unfortunately at each other’s throats.
Let’s make one thing clear, the entire “debate” that has sprung up is dripping with political implications and innuendos and is heralded by some of the best political minds in the business. On one side you have a left-leaning constituency who are eager to handicap a freshly minted GOP Congress and on the other side you have people on the right bracing themselves for the worse issuing damage control statements left and right.
While political strategy has taken over airwaves in very expected ways, what’s noticeably absent is the media’s failure to discuss the real issues at hand and using this tragedy as a teachable moment from which we could all benefit. Only a die hard partisan quick to point fingers and slow to accept responsibility would be remiss to acknowledge that our rhetoric on both sides has gotten dangerously out of control and in this case deadly. The climate produced by vitriolic accusations that our elected officials are Nazi’s, terrorist sympathizers, Socialists, Marxists, Communists, un-American, or that they should be in the crosshairs, help fuel the disillusions of the unstable, radical, and dangerous among us.
So what we now see is a political feeding frenzy where liberal commentators are drooling at an opportunity to cripple the conservatives and the conservatives looking at ways to deflect and in some cases return fire. We would be kidding ourselves and denying recent history if we pretended that the last two years never happened. Many studies, polls, commentary, have been conducted and given since the primary and eventual general election win of President Obama, where it has been shown time and time again that his rise to power also increased the hostile rhetoric of his detractors. At points even in the 2008 campaign season, Republicans openly opined about the negative turn of their party and base as accusations and foul statements at campaign stops toward Obama were becoming more and more hostile. Once Obama was elected, many Republican strategists were quite open about their desire to run on this wave of “discontent” by a vocal minority in their base all the way to 2012 if need be. There were many internal fights within the party about this strategy and the potential negative ramifications. However, in the end, as a grass roots organization rose to prominence on this wave of anger, their energy was more than enough to convince Republicans to go along with this strategy accepting the risks. There were warning signs and red flags throughout. Minority groups raised the alarm about the rhetoric at some events and protests, members within the Republican party that felt this was the morally wrong path raised the alarm, and no matter how many crude, racially, ethnic, or politically inflammatory things were said or done, these charges were continually swept under the rug as isolated events.
Now we are witness to a national tragedy that some want to portray as the isolated actions of a madman, completely ignoring the reality that for months as the heated rhetoric spiked threats against politicians, vandalism, and in some cases assault were also on the rise. I believe critics on the left are right to point out these facts and tying this latest act in a series of acts of violence to the rhetoric that was at times fueled by conservative media for political reasons. However, I caution the left in playing the victim in this discourse. The left is just as guilty of participating in the shouting matches that replaced civil discourse and in the proliferation of mindless chatter that referred to other Americans with different views as some how less than equal human beings. The right finds themselves justified in pointing out the left’s contribution to the national barbarism which somehow excludes them from any blame whatsoever if one follows the latest talking points. The fact remains that it really doesn’t matter what the killer’s book choices, statements, or voter registration card reveal about the political party he was most influenced by. Nor is this a free speech issue.
The issue facing Americans today in the wake of this devastating tragedy is are we willing to temper our right to free speech with responsibility. Are we as civilized individuals ready and willing to admit that sometimes what we say or don’t say and what we do or don’t do can have consequences that we may not be willing to accept? Are we really so partisan that we will attack Sarah Palin as if she really drew up that map with the intention to have someone shot? Or are we willing to admit that Mrs. Palin in a way is a victim too, a product of a climate made acceptable where free speech such as the kind she used while Constitutionally acceptable, was not be the responsible thing to do? I have had my fair share of interviews locally, nationally, and internationally, some were even so contentious that I felt I needed oxygen after the interview. Many times I wanted to say things that would make me feel good in the moment, or sting my counterpart, and even make my supporters cheer, but ultimately decided against it. It’s not that I’m morally superior to anyone else who had ever been on camera, but I realize that there is a time and place for everything. We have to realize that whatever we say and do in the public has consequences both good and bad. What would really be productive is if we all looked in the mirror and accepted the responsibility for whatever role we may have played in producing this current political climate. This is not a left or right debate but an American debate. We can choose the path that has already been paved or we can develop a new one, the choice is ours. But at the end of the day, unless we make a conscious effort to do better by enjoining in what is good and rejecting what is not, we will not be honoring those Americans who died at the hands of a madman. Will we really know the motive of this killer? Maybe not. But we would do our nation a disservice if we didn’t reflect on responsibility in the media and the very real consequences when we don’t temper our right to free speech with our values. There are many sickos in our country some planning to protest at the funerals of those lost in this tragedy, do we really want to give aid and comfort to their ideals?