Patti Wenzel

In the wake of Arizona tragedy, political rhetoric heats up

By - Jan 10th, 2011 04:00 am
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Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

After the tragic events in Tuscon this weekend — and the heated debate that followed over who’s at fault  — it is time to take a step back, stop the political rhetoric and think about the real story here.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head (and as of this writing, has miraculously survived) along with 20 other people gathered at a town-hall style meeting in her Arizona district. Unfortunately, six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl, a minister, a congressional aide and three elderly citizens.

Giffords was doing exactly what the constituents of Arizona’s 8th District elected her to do – meeting with them to learn about their priorities, then represent them accordingly in Washington, D.C.  Saturday’s meeting was her first “Congress on Your Corner” since the November election, though she had held numerous, similar events since her first term, starting in early 2007.

While commentators and talking heads have acknowledged the tragic loss of six lives and the medical battle Giffords faces, too much of the discussion has been focused on determining who to blame.

Immediately, news pundits and citizens jumped into overdrive to connect the suspected shooter, 22-year old Jared Loughner, to the right, even floating one theory that he may have been influenced by Sarah Palin’s misguided election cycle campaign to target certain Democratic districts. In it, her team used crosshairs to identify congressional districts that GOP candidates needed to win, listing the names of 20 elected officials, including Giffords.

Palin’s map is, to say the least, in poor taste. But is it incendiary?

No one yet knows what made Jared Loughner pull the trigger. His Facebook, Myspace and blog entries ramble about a new form of currency and the poor grammar practiced by people living in Arizona’s 8th district (in a post that, oddly enough, is riddled with grammatical errors). His favorite books are all over the map, including Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Brave New World, Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz and Animal Farm, though there may be a common thread in looking for a societal model he could latch onto. He may have had a problem with the government’s response to illegal immigrants — a problem ignored by both Republicans or Democrats. He might, as some have suggested, indeed have been agitated by the heated tenor of our nation’s political rhetoric. He may suffer from depression or delusions: We just don’t know.

But Loughner’s specific motives can be discussed at a later time. Now we should focus our thoughts, prayers and efforts on Giffords, the wounded, and on the families of those killed. And if anything good can come of it, perhaps this senseless tragedy is an opportunity to bring the dialog between the two political sides down a notch (or five) and focus on what really matters: the health and future of our country.

Congresswoman Giffords meets with a constituent at a “Congress on Your Corner” event.

This shooting was a message to all of us, whether we are on the Left or Right, to realize that words and actions do have consequences. The political discourse in all levels of politics has degenerated into a proverbial contest of who can prove the other side wrong. Both sides are to blame; we are all to blame when we forget that we can disagree on the issues without personally attacking the other side, or threatening real or metaphoric violence.

Government officials need to focus on discussing the issues, not fighting each other like lions over fresh kill. We need to stop the political fighting and learn to respect each others opinions, tone down our own rhetoric around the water cooler and across the dinner table and realize we are all in this together.

While Loungher shot the gun, we all helped load the bullets. Now is the time to put all weapons aside, and get to work to move our country — and our culture — forward.

Even though I disagree with Keith Olbermann 99.9% of the time, his comments on this event are right on the mark.

All photos of Congresswoman Giffords are from her congressional website.

0 thoughts on “In the wake of Arizona tragedy, political rhetoric heats up”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Patti;
    Let me raise my figurative hand for a yeah vote on this kind of sentiment. The media is what we want it to be. The growth of the media and it’s reach has far exceeded our ability as a society to absorb and use it in a way that benefits us.
    Right now the line between news, commentary and entertainment is so thin that even thoughtful people have to think twice.
    It’s not Fox with it’s blatant flogging of anything that can whip up the troops or Obermann’s caustic attitude that is the problem, after all it’s a free country and we believe in free speech.
    The biggest problem is the avoidance of the real problems and the fascination with the make believe. The media guru’s tell us the public can’t absorb anything too complex and the real problems have to be reduced to sound bites.
    I’m sorry, but bumper stickers and sound bites are not components of civil discourse that is going to lead to solutions that are accepted by an educated, thoughtful society.
    It appears to me that how Michael Jackson died or what’s going to happen to Lindsey Lohan when she gets out of rehab are more important than the larger and more important issues of our future as a society, than we are whistling past the cemetery where great societies have been buried.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Jeff Jordan makes sense, and so does Patti Wenzel. Yes, our news media is too absorbed with trivia and does not do what it should be doing to keep the citizenry informed. But then, the citizenry appears to be more interested in Lindsay Lohan’s travails and Michael Jackson’s death than in what is actually happening in the nation and the world. Too many only listen to one news source, if any at all, not making the effort to get a broad range of opinions and background to be better informed.

    And then – there are public figures who play to this limited audience, simplifying everything into slogans like “Don’t retreat – reload!”, “inciting and inflaming” the public, to use Congresswoman Giffords’ own words, not considering how those words might be interpreted by diseased minds like Jared Lee Loughner’s.

    Yes, it’s past time to clean up our act!

    Dave Obey was recently lamenting how members of congress no longer are socially compatible, and thus it’s easier to be confrontational. He said that it’s difficult to fight openly with someone on the House floor when you’re meeting them and their family for dinner on Sunday! Now, too many members fly into Washington on Tuesday and out again on Thursday, and sleep in their offices! They don’t get to really know their colleagues at all. Oh yes, it is important that they spend time with their constituents, but still, something is lost, a sense of collegiality missed. This makes the kind of partisan bickering we’ve seen a matter of course.

    It’s a shame – – –

  3. Anonymous says:

    “The Left and the Right are equally to blame” because of acid discourse will be the phrase of those who want to absolve the Right of carrying the NRA’s water for 40 years. True, Loughner is a lunatic and not the agent of the Right. But the Right has fought for decades for the inalienable right of lunatics to have unfettered access to semi-automatic weapons. The blame and responsibility are indirect, but real.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Sorry Tom but the lunatic right did not write the Second Ammendment. In fact if you look close the founding fathers were closer to what we would call a lunatic left in the opinion of the extablished powers of their day. You seem to try to make it sound like the weapon used was some sort of assault weapon or something. In fact it was the same brand and style of weapon I and thousands of others carry every day at work. Also Congresswoman Giffords was a strong supporter of gun rights and could possibly take your remarks as being as if not more inflammatory than what this guy published on his web site.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Loughner used a Glock 19 — incidentally the same type of weapon used in the Virgina Tech Massacre. Ken, I’ll assume that you are a law enforcement official, and that is why you carry a similar pistol “every day at work” and as such, that you received countless hours of training before you were allowed to even handle such a weapon. And that, should you ever have to use your weapon, a lengthy and detailed report would follow. Loughner is just a kid who could pony up the cash for a semiautomatic weapon. There is a difference, and the point that Tom is making is that there need to be tougher restrictions on who can and cannot own a gun in this country.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Very well said Jeff. The media is full of crap, but Palin and other knobs still can’t be let off the hook when they play games with rhetoric and images that come up to the edge of making a threat involving guns. Same goes for bullet-like trains aimed at Scott Walker on bumper stickers. I don’t know how you can regulate this stuff except with a responsible, quality media culture that isn’t obsessed with tawdry stories of sex and violence.

    Loughner is mentally ill and missed getting the help he needed to prevent him from becoming a shooter. It’s not right to make him an ideological assassin or blame him on the Tea Party. But when TP people show up with guns at protests, there should be ways to shut them down. Maybe more collegiality among members of congress would stop the dumbest from hosting events that involve guns and toy with militant rhetoric, but having them all be chums is not really great either. They need to have real but valid conflicts.

    The senseless proliferation of handguns in the US is the fault of the the right exactly as Tom says.

    And keep in mind that no amount of loonies and nothing previously stated takes away from the fact that this and most countries started by violence and maintain order by violence and the monopolization of it. The problem with people speaking and acting too casually about this is not that it’s not a valid position, it is a very very very serious one–and they’re idiots who are not serious.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Bad people kill people, end of story. I don’t care how strict you make a gun law, bad people will still find a way to get a gun. It is that simple. No gun law will stop criminals from using a gun. The fact is we live in a country that the founding fathers founded to include a right to bear arms. Why do so many think that “Europe gets it, while the USA does not”? The USA was founded by people who did not agree with the way Europe was set up to begin with. The inalienable right has nothing to do with giving criminals guns. It has everything to do with keeping the constitution. We don’t even need new laws to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, we just need to start enforcing the laws we already have in place. Stop blaming others for this tragedy and START blaming the bastard whom committed this horrendous/sickening crime!
    Getting sickened by those who blame the right for all of the deficiencies in our Country. One of the greatest Presidents of all time was President Kennedy. He would be ashamed to see what has happened to his party and all of the name-calling and finger pointing. Many of those on the right can be blamed just as much. But we need to stop blaming others and begin to blame the criminal(s).

  8. Anonymous says:

    here’s a good question:
    Why There Are So Many Mentally Ill Among Us?
    see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harry-shearer/why-so-many-mentally-ill_b_806725.html

  9. Anonymous says:

    Yikes. This an intense and somewhat off track discussion. Tom, you’re just plain wrong. “The right” has not “fought for decades for the inalienable right of lunatics to have unfettered access to semi-automatic weapons”… they (NRA etc) have always stipulated that felons and the insane NOT have access, and have supported legislation to that affect. And Erin, “tougher restrictions” have not proven to keep guns out of the hands of lunatics, criminals, gangsters, or anyone else intent on doing others harm with a firearm. The issue of laws is always floated when there are tragedies due to maniacs. But I contend that maniacs can always cheat the system in an open society, and failing the ability to acquire a firearm, can simple take a can of gasoline and burn down a school or hit some innocent citizen over the head with a rock. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Here’s a better question MMK, why in the world do you read the huffington post?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Great article and ideas Patti, as always.
    It’s a shame this event generates the dialog it has. Sadly, this same event is most likely repeated many times over in the course of one day.

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