We don’t yet know why an armed lunatic chose to shoot Congresswoman Giffords. But we do know that the seeds of violence have, for years, been sown by commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and their ilk. Moreover, we can be certain that those seeds were well-fertilized in the 2008 presidential campaign, most especically at the Republican National Convention.
I watched both national conventions gavel to gavel and was shocked by the vitriol prominently displayed in every speech by Republicans. Rather than focus on policy, Republicans chose to focus on personal attacks. From the snarky comments by Sarah Palin to the snide diatribes of Senator McCain, the conservative venom was unrestrained. We were treated to derisive questions about President Obama’s citizenship and his service as a community organizer. By contrast, I heard no such attacks from speakers at the Democratic National Convention.
And when the results were in, Republicans suggested that they didn’t lose the election, ACORN helped the Democrats “steal” it.
Since then, the ugly rhetoric from the right has only gotten worse. Republican leaders have used every conceivable legislative trick to block Democratic initiatives. They railed about the “big government takeover.” They talked about “death panels.” And they howled about Democrats trying to “push through their liberal agenda.” Then, leading up to the mid-term elections, we were treated to the sight of Tea Party demonstrators carrying signs portraying President Obama as Hitler and as the Joker. We were also forced to witness demonstrators bringing guns to rallies and threatening to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights” if Republican Tea Party candidates didn’t get their way.
Here in Arizona, I have often been forced to bite my tongue as local Republican leaders referred to President Obama as “illegitimate” and Nancy Pelosi as “a disgusting pig.” I have listened to McCain, Governor Brewer and State Senator Russell Pearce vilify latinos. And, like most people, I have been the recipient of a seemingly endless variety of ugly, untruthful chain emails against our President and his supporters.
Now I know that those on the right will suggest that liberals are just as bad. But any comparison of Rush, Beck or Fox News Channel with MSNBC is a false equivalency. Certainly many on the left have contributed to the unpleasantness but, unlike their right-wing counterparts, I have yet to witness a Democrat talking about committing violent acts such as “taking out” an opponent. I have never heard Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz call for Democrats to take weapons to rallies, or to “target” those with whom they disagree.
In any case, we all must change the way we discuss politics. We must try to respect those with whom we disagree even when we disagree with their opinions. We must try to separate the policies from the person. And we must politely, but firmly, tell those who make outrageous statements that they are not acceptable. We must refuse to vote for candidates who invoke hatred. And when we hear political commentators make disgusting, violent statements, we must switch channels and inform the station or network that we will no longer tolerate the rhetoric of violence and hate.
If not, the event in Tucson is likely to be repeated across our nation.