When U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot during a public appearance last month, the gunman did more than temporarily silence a voice in Congress. In addition to taking six innocent lives and leaving Rep. Giffords critically wounded, the attack served to open a reexamination of political discourse in our increasingly-polarized country. It has become quite obvious that there is more pure hate in America today than we have seen in years. Both major political parties have a moral duty to help bring about a “healing in the land,” and they must tone down their rhetoric. As former President Bill Clinton says, we must remember that political rhetoric – and especially the messages of hate – falls on the “unhinged” and the “hinged” alike. Both groups respond to this type message and violent acts are always a possibility with those in the “unhinged” groups.
In what could end up being nothing more than a coincidence, Rep. Giffords’ district appeared in a campaign by Sarah Palin’s political action committee as one of the Congressional seats conservatives wanted to regain in the fall elections. The imagery, in light of the tragic shootings, was unfortunate at best. Each of the districts were “targeted” in the campaign ad. Gun sights were printed over each district. That is the sort of thing that has no place in the political arena. Palin’s very weird response after the shootings did nothing to calm the waters. In fact, it made matters worse.
But Palin is not alone. There are far too many voices in the political realm that have used violent imagery or rhetoric. People and groups on the left and right of the political spectrum have shown a willingness to vilify their opponents rather than simply argue their points. It’s past time for that sort of thing to be put on the shelf for good.
While such polarizing rhetoric is nothing new, our American government relies on the free exchange of information and argument. Hopefully, political figures and highly-paid talk show hosts have learned a lesson. There must be more civility when they disagree with folks. Workable policies can be created in our political process in spite of disagreement by focusing on debate and compromise. The last thing anyone in the U.S. should advocate is a chilling of our political process. It’s a vital part of our system of government. However, there are points beyond which rhetoric becomes inflammatory and is no longer reasonable or useful. We must all be careful not to cross that line.
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