Arizona Massacre: Congresswoman Wounded, 6 Others Slain
Saturday morning Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was wounded in Tucson, Arizona, while holding a political outreach event. Arizona police reported that 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on Giffords and a crowd of people – wounding 18, fatally wounding 6. Amongst the dead were U.S. District Judge John M. Roll and a 9-year-old girl. Giffords, who was shot through the brain, is in critical condition. She is said to be sedated, but responsive.
Lougher remains in custody as authorities are reportedly seeking a second man in connection with the shootings. In a somber address to the nation Saturday morning, President Barack Obama said he was sending FBI Director Robert Mueller to Arizona to oversee the investigation.
After a heartfelt statement condemning the shooting, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) said that Congress would postpone votes this week; including the vote to repeal last year’s healthcare reform legislation.
Very little is known at this moment about the shooter. But investigators have begun to release information that suggests Lougher may have held similar beliefs to those in the right-wing fringe.
The shooting resurfaces concerns many have had with the absence of civility in political discourse in recent years, not relegated to, but primarily on the right. Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik stated; “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous, and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Arizona remains one of the more conservative states in the Union and recently became the center of controversy with its new illegal immigration enforcement laws.
In September of 2009, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was criticized for comments she made in regard to her concerns over some of the nastier rhetoric during the healthcare debate. While making no direct mention of Republicans, Pelosi stated, “I think we all have to take action and responsibility for our words — we are a free country and this balance between freedom and safety is one that we, um, have to carefully balance.”
She went on to say, “I have concerns about some of the language that is being used because I saw this myself in the late ’70s in San Francisco, this king of rhetoric. … It created a climate in which violence took place. … I wish we would all curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements and understand that some of the ears that it is falling on are not as balanced as the person making the statements may assume.”
At the time, Pelosi was criticized for exploiting the assassination of Harvey Milk for political gain. Former President Jimmy Carter was also criticized for echoing those concerns. Sadly, now her words seem prophetic.
This isn’t a question of leaders condoning or even inciting violence from their more impassioned believers. However, in an attempt to garner political votes, Republican officials have begun to tolerate and even embrace some of the heightened rhetoric of many of their more action-oriented followers. The line between elected officials and radio stalwarts like Rush Limbaugh has been blurred. The election of a Black president, coupled with major progressive legislation, left a sizable portion of this country feeling disenfranchised. And in an attempt to co-opt that group, Republicans have been playing to the most derisive feelings to motivate voter turnout and political participation. Painting the other side as ‘public enemy #1’ happens on the left as well; but in an election cycle where extreme partisans like Alan Grayson (D-FL) on the left were ousted from office, political extremists on the right were being elected.
Talk of gunplay is no longer confined to protection of gun ownership, but has become a lucent theme in the politics of the right. Name-calling is one thing; championing “second amendment remedies” like Sharron Angle (R-NV) has is a completely different monster. From the ‘You Lie!’ outburst by Joe Wilson (R-SC) during the State of the Union Address to the more recent birther catcalling during a reading of The United Stated Constitution on the Congressional floor.
In fact, Rep. Giffords was one of twenty Democrats targeted by Sarah Palin during the midterm elections with a controversial ad depicting Giffords’ district in the crosshairs of a firearm scope. Addressing the ad, Giffords said, “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the way that she has it is depicted is it has the crosshairs of a gun site over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences to that action.”
In the past, anytime a person on the left went after Republicans for exploiting some of the uglier divisions that exist in our country for political advantage, they were cast aside as partisan; seeking to gain sympathy for Healthcare Reform or our nation’s first Black president. But there is a deep and dark reality at play here, and recognizing where the majority of it is coming from, is not pointing fingers, it’s reality.
In 2009, The United States Secret Service confirmed that death threats made against President Barack Obama were up 400% from death threats made to former President George W. Bush. To say that discourse has become distasteful across the political spectrum on both sides of the isle is factual. But to say that the right isn’t responsible for the lions-share of this new reality is not. The violent rhetoric on the left is not what it is on the right by a long shot. To see the two as equally culpable is to draw a false equivalency and will do nothing to solve the problem.
No matter how President Obama pleads with the entire nation to unite after this tragedy, it will be largely ineffective to the people he truly needs to reach. To those people, his words are the words of an illegitimate, Kenyan-born, socialist dictator. He isn’t their leader, much less their president. Republicans have either helped to create that narrative or stood by idly while it was benefiting them. Only they can put that horse back in the stable.
There is a choice here: Conservative leaders can deflect the attention that is fairly coming their way by painting those questioning their past political tactics as politically opportunistic. They can go on Sunday shows and paint the vitriol as an problem of both the right and left; standing back and wiping their hands clean of any responsibility they have as national figures and a national party; or, they can seize this moment to not only condemn violent acts, but walk-back some of the extreme statements that they have made in the past. They can lead their followers, not follow their lead.
Republican officials and conservative personalities have the rare opportunity to speak to their constituents: “The Black president is a real American, an elected official, and his minions aren’t taking the country from you. They don’t want death panels to kill your Grandma or to implement Sharia Law in your town. They’re not corrupt or anti-American. They’re just Democrats.” If not, as Giffords said, the alternative has consequences.