What’s Wrong With Calling For Civility?

Following the Tucson shooting, Pima County Sheriff Dupnik stirred up the proverbial hornet’s nest by suggesting that our rancorous political climate may have contributed to the violence.  And his statements about Arizona’s insane gun laws fueled even more anger from the right.

How dare the good Sheriff ask for more civility in our public discourse!  How dare he try to keep guns away from the mentally unstable or even the deranged!

Never once did he point fingers at a particular party or individual politicians and radio hosts.  Yet following his statements on national TV, right wing radio hosts and right wing politicians went on the attack.

Certainly the right wingers were not responsible for the shooting.  Still, Sheriff Dupnik made some valid points.  Statements such as Sharron Angle’s threat of “2nd Amendment remedies” and “taking out” Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid most definitely could inspire another unblanced individual to act.  Tea Party members carrying guns to Presidential appearances can only be viewed as a threat of violence to President Obama.  Tea Party  signs reading “Next time, we’ll come armed” can only be seen as a threat to elected officials.  And maps of Congressional districts in the crosshairs of a gunsight most certainly present a violent image.

But right wingers claim that the violent implication of these statements and images is a misinterpretation of their intent; a fabrication by the left.  For example, Rush Limbaugh said that liberals were the ones truly responsible for the Tucson shooting.  Half-term Governor Palin defended her Mama Grizzly approach to politics by claiming she and other right wingers are the victims of “blood libel.”  Even The Arizona Republic got into the act by printing an editorial calling for Sheriff Dupnik to “remember his duty” and “to recall that he is elected to be a lawman.”

In other words, right wingers have the right to state opinions in any manner they please.  But if someone on the left takes issue with those opinions, they should remember their place and shut up.

Meanwhile, how have political commentators on the left responded?  Have they displayed similar angst at the suggestion their discourse may have contributed to the shooting (despite the fact that they’ve never encouraged violence)?  No.  Instead of defending themselves, they seem to have taken the Sheriff’s suggestion to heart.  Indeed, Keith Olbermann has announced that he will be acutely aware of language from now on.  He’s even stated that he is dropping his show’s segment “World’s Worst Persons.”

The difference in reaction couldn’t be more revealing.  Either the right is feeling some sense of shame and guilt over the Sheriff’s comments.  Or they are so determined to win at all costs, they simply don’t care if their actions and words lead to more senseless violence.

Personally, I’m betting both of those motives are true.