by Frederick Cosby, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
Saturday’s shooting rampage in Arizona that left a federal judge dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded has sparked a rallying cry for an end to the dangerously heated political rhetoric that has taken over American politics.
Even before knowing whether or not the shootings in Tucson were politically-motivated, several elected officials, religious leaders and organizations said enough is enough when it comes to political name-calling, demonization and rhetorical calls to violence in America’s political discourse.
Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) believes America is in “a dark place” right now.
“We had someone removed last week, shouting out some insult about President Obama’s birth,” Cleaver (D-Mo.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “I think members of Congress either need to turn down the volume – begin to try to exercise some high level of civility – or this darkness will never, ever be overcome with light.”
“The hostility is here,” Cleaver continued. “People may want to deny it. It is real.”
Cleaver learned that firsthand last March what a rhetorically whipped-up crowd can do when angry protestors – some of them Tea Party supporters – spit on him and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) outside the U.S. Capitol complex during a debate and vote on the health care law.
Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) echoed Cleaver’s sentiments. “Whether through words or weapons, violence has no place in our democracy, and all of us have a responsibility to foster a climate in which we can exchange ideas and views passionately but peacefully,” he said.
Even some Tea Party supporters, no stranger to inflammatory language and actions, said the nature of political argument needs to be dialed down.
“Spirited debate is desirable in our country, but it only should be the clash if ideas,” Tea Party Express Chair Amy Kremer said in a written statement Saturday.
“An attack on anyone for political purposes, if that was a factor in this shooting, is an attack on the democratic process. We join everyone in condemning it.”
But some on the political right say this call for civility and the use of the Tucson shooting is a red-herring and hit job by the left-wing media and liberals who seem to omit the fact that the shooting suspect – 22-year-old Jared Loughner – appears to be mentally unstable.
“It should not be, but the media, under the guise of ‘a full exposition’ of the evil in Arizona, is back to subtly and not so subtly pinning the blame for the attempted assassination of the Congresswoman and the related shootings on the tea party movement, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, me, you, and everyone right of center,” Erick Erickson wrote Sunday on the conservative RedState.com Web site. “And from what we now know, it is not just media malpractice, but a lie.”
Never mind that Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik – whose office is investigating the shootings, along with the FBI – told the media that he believes political vitriol could have played a role in the incident.
“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” he said.
“The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”
Dupnik added: “All I can tell you is that there’s reason to believe that this individual may have a mental issue. And I think that people who are unbalanced are especially susceptible to vitriol.”
Out of respect for Giffords, the House of Representatives is taking a break from all legislative activity this week, including postponing a vote on the centerpiece of the GOP’s agenda – a bill to repeal the health care law.
The law has been Target Number One in terms of harsh, derogatory and coarse political-speak. “Obamacare,” “the job-killing health care law,” and “socialized medicine” are some of the labels regularly used by Republican opponents of the law. Some health care law opponents attended rallies carrying posters with Obama dressed as a witch doctor with a bone in his nose.
And that’s the gentle stuff in terms of inflammatory political language and behavior.
Five days a week, Fox News host Glenn Beck – who accused Obama of hating white people – takes to his blackboard and spins off wild conspiratorial theories that many viewers accept as true.
Former GOP vice presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin likes to put a little gunpowder in her speech to get the Tea Party faithful fired up. She once famously tweeted to conservative groupies “Don’t retreat, instead – RELOAD.”
During the mid-term elections, Palin posted an electoral map on her Facebook page and placed riflescope crosshair symbols on Democratic districts that she thought were vulnerable to Republican takeovers. Giffords’s district was one of them.
“When people do that, you’ve got to realize, there are consequences to that action,” Giffords said on MSNBC last year.
Palin went to her Facebook page Saturday and issued a statement offering her “sincere condolences” “to the family of Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims of today’s tragic shooting.”
But Palin wasn’t alone in using gun-talk when speaking of political opponents. Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle, who lost her bid to oust Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), spoke of “Second Amendment remedies” of vanquishing folks when “our government becomes tyrannical.” The Second Amendment protects the right of people to keep and bear arms.
But many hope that the gunshots in Tucson become will put an end to the era of mean-spirited politics.
“Dehumanizing language and images of violence are regularly used to express differences of opinion on political issues,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “Such language is too often heard by others, including those who may be mentally ill or ideologically extreme, to justify the actual use of violence.”
“Americans must be able to have robust and healthy differences of opinion while respecting the humanity and patriotism of those with whom they disagree,” he added.