First off – wow! I can’t believe it has been nearly a month since I have posted. I’m afraid I got caught up in the craziness of the holiday season – and that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, I plan to talk more about this topic later, but I simply can’t ignore the biggest story out there right now – the shooting of 20 people in Arizona in an assassination attempt on a Congresswoman.
This horrific tragedy – including the deaths of a local judge and a young girl – has sparked discussion of its relationship to the tone in our political environment. Many have pointed to dramatic examples like Sarah Palin’s targeted Congressional map and remarks about “reloading” or a radio host’s claim that “if ballots don’t work, bullets will” at a rally to argue that hostile, incendiary, and even violent political rhetoric may be fostering an environment in which these sorts of tragedies are more likely to occur. I agree that it is impossible and foolish to blame any single figure for the shooting – obviously the shooter is deranged and it is often difficult to pinpoint the “reasons” for an assassination attempt. However, even if his “motive” doesn’t align with traditional political debates and policies, the shooting was an attempt to kill a political figure and therefore, by its very nature, political.
However, while blaming particular politicians and/or statements for this tragedy may be pointless, looking at the political environment we live in is not. Many politicians (Republicans and Democrats) use war-like language in describing political campaigns. “Targeting” a district may be nothing new, but adding the crosshairs to the map ramps up the imagery. And this aggressive and abusive imagery and rhetoric seems to be everywhere we turn in politics today.
Even if a pugnacious political environment isn’t the sole mechanism for this tragedy, it may be a contributing factor. And if this is even a possibility, the debate over how we conduct ourselves politically is worth having. It is not “politicizing” the tragedy to have this discussion – it is seeking understanding, seeking for resolution, and seeking for a better way, a way that limits the potential for this to happen again.