Monday, January 10, 2011

What's the Lesson from the Arizona Shooting?

The unsettling nature of the attempted assassination of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of her aide Gabe Zimmerman, nine year old Christina Green, Judge John Rose and three others, shock and haunt the national psyche at a very raw emotional level.

And interestingly enough, not just because of the horrendous nature of the tragedy.

The lone gunman who shot Congresswomen Giffords was a madman. It is always interesting to listen to people try to make sense out of that which comes from a deranged mind. There is usually only the reason they give, but to those of us who are relatively healthy and sane, there is no rationale answer. Saturday's mass shooting has none.

And that's where the haunt and shock of the event seem to lie. Nationally, unable to fully comprehend the full all of what happened, we began to seek to carry the blame ourselves. Was there something happening within the body politic which 'caused' a woman, committed to public service to be gunned down in the exercise of her duty? And finally we settled in on it - the overheated nature of our political rhetoric. Gibbons, a representative from the state of Arizona, a moderate Democrat who had voted for last year's health care reform legislation in a state highly and heavily criticized for immigration reform laws adjudged by many to be the result of bigotry and xenophobia must have been gunned down by a right-wing Tea Partyer, incited to violence by Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

I was seeing the emails 'blow up' twitter long before I saw a report on television. And it wasn't pretty.

Here's the thing though. That wasn't the case. And there are, or should be, plenty of people with egg on their faces, actually proving their own point Saturday night, into Sunday morning.

Don't get me wrong. I am no Sarah Palin supporter (not by a long shot), nor am I a fan of either Limbaugh, Beck or FOX News. My point is this...

It's clear that this young man was seriously deranged, but the very fact that we had to raise the question about whether or not our political discourse has devolved into something that could create an atmosphere that could contribute to something like this, means that we know it has. And it means that we know that we are wrong for allowing that to happen.

I'm still of the opinion that no one needs to 'prove' his or her patriotism because of their political leanings. While there are people express there love and commitment to our country in different ways and to varying degrees, conservatives, ultra and otherwise and liberal, raging and otherwise, love America. The question is are we expressing our points of view in ways that recognize the fact that others may see it differently? And are we willing to enter in to debate in such a way that conveys an understanding that, in our democracy, winning and losing, very, very, rarely indicates either virtue or evil? Do we understand that it is part of a process in which there are winners and losers and in which 'wins and 'loses' are not always 'permanent'? Laws change. Legislation can be modified. Even court rulings are not like the 'laws of the Medes and Persians' there are almost always remedies and recourse for outcomes we don't reflect justice or fairness.

No, putting politicians in cross hairs is ridiculous. Shooting legislation is abject foolishness. Statements that suggest, or infer or sound like incitement to violence against other Americans because of political ideology is wrong.

To me, its not a question of whether or not we've gone too far in our public and political discourse. Of course we have. We're capable of dialing it back if we want it to. But are we willing to adopt a more rationale approach to our interests, know the answer to an effective democracy is not volume or rage, but sustained engagement? The willingness to participate in vigorous debate is a sign of an investment in the future of our country that mature citizens make.

The legacy of the Arizona shooting ought to be to for us to do everything we can to lessen the prospect that should a similar tragedy ever happen, there is little reason to resort to blaming one another for creating an atmosphere that could lead to such violence.

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