The tragedy in Tucson has opened a long overdue debate on the state of our political discourse in our country. Republicans were quick accuse democrats of using the tragedy to promote their own political agenda. In truth these were long-standing concerns that have been voiced by many on the left, including Rep. Giffords, but have been given minimal credence by the press until now. And in this case the agenda being promoted is simply to regain a sense of integrity, proportionality, and civility in our political discourse so we can once again debate the important issues facing the country without demonizing rhetoric and threats of physical violence. This is a bedrock principle of a democracy and something both parties should have insisted upon long ago.
The single factor is responsible for driving this deranged individual over the edge, but it is clear that the overly divisive and toxic rhetoric is a problem that already has and will again result in violence. Over the last two years, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh have created an environment that inflamed and encouraged unbalanced individuals to use violence as as a method of dealing with political disagreements. The inherent danger in this approach has been apparent from the time then vice-presidential nominee Palin said Barack Obama 'did not share our values' and 'palled around with terrorists.' This tactic has been subsequently embraced at the highest levels of the Republican Party.
If you just watched Fox News, listened to talk radio, or read viral right-wing emails you would think that Barack Obama was a 'radical muslim'' who was 'born in Kenya', has a 'deep-seated hatred of white people' and wants to 'impose Sharia Law' in the United States. You might also think he was a socialist, fascist, communist,and/or Nazi who is going to take way our guns and put us in FEMA camps while overseeing a 'job-killing government takeover of health care and the economy' that will create 'death panels' that will 'kill grandma'. For the millions of people that believe this nonsense it is a powerful rallying cry and top Republican politicians, candidates and pundits are all too happy to suggest that this perceived attack on the United States should be fought by 'reloading', being 'armed and dangerous', or with 'second amendment solutions'.
The net result of this divisive and false rhetoric is to convince many people that the elected government is engaged in a a illegitimate, totalitarian, treasonous and anti-christian attack on fundamental American values and the country itself. This isn't the same as telling people to kill liberals, but when you are broadcasting to millions of people, some of whom are mentally unstable, in a period of extreme economic turbulence, it is not completely different either.
The Sarah Palins of the world have found it very economically lucrative to be as incendiary as possible, but it is not just the loudest and most belligerent voices on the right that need to take responsibility for their statements. Too many of the supposedly 'serious adults' in the republican party looked the other way or actually endorsed the smears and hate speech when they found it politically expedient. Thus when Sarah Palin started the death panel lie (named by Politifact as the biggest lie of the year in 2009), Senator Charles Grassley not only failed to condemn it, he actually repeated the lie, lending it the legitimacy of a U.S. Senator. The media is quick to point out that there is vitriol on both sides of the political aisle. This is certainly true, but there is a big difference between a vice-presidential candidate and Senator telling incendiary lies on the nightly news and an anonymous liberal blogger spewing nonsense in a remote corner of the blogosphere.
This violent and inflammatory language creates an environment in which there is a serious threat for politicians and individuals who publicly oppose the agenda of those inflaming hatred and subtly endorsing violence. When our elected representatives no longer feel safe to vote their conscience or meet with constituents, it fundamentally undermines democracy in America. That is why all Americans need to be united in our opposition to any hint of the use of violence as a political tool.
After years of redbaiting and political grandstanding in the 1950's, the McCarthy Hearings were ended when Joseph Welch finally took a stand and stated the obvious. We as a nation, should use this tragedy as an impetus to finally say to those politicians and pundits whose irresponsible hate speech, lies, and vitriol are creating a divisive,toxic, and dangerous political climate "at long last have you no sense of decency?"