10 January 2011


By now most people are aware that two days ago, U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was shot in the head during a meeting with constituents in Tucson, Arizona. Six people were killed in the attack, and fourteen (including Giffords) were wounded. The assailant, Jared Lee Louchner, had a criminal record, a history of mental disorder, and had been rejected by the Army as unqualified for service. His internet postings include images of guns and disjointed statements about returning to the gold standard, governmental mind control, and out of control government power. His favorite books include Hitler's Mein Kampf and Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. His ramblings make clear that Loughner "has internalized some of the conspiracy theories common in the Tea Party," and that "while clearly in the grip of delusion rather than any coherent political ideology, nonetheless shared many far-right obsessions."

Giffords, who is Jewish, had come under increasing attack from the far right over her criticism of Arizona's tough immigration law, and her support of the health care law. She had been a target of Tea party attacks -- sometimes in violent terms -- for some time, most famously on Sarah Palin's Facebook page, with its map of 20 gun sights marking the districts of Democrats Palin had "targeted" for removal from office. An image of the map appears at the bottom of this post -- click to enlarge. Palin (image below) has denied any intent to incite violence, a disingenuous and hypocritical claim from this writer's perspective.

Conservative pundits are quick to dismiss any culpability by Palin, or by any of the other scores of militant politicial extremists whose rancor has both poisoned and polarized this nation's politics. I disagree. I believe that each of us is responsible for our words and actions, including their potential effect on unbalanced minds. Informed opinions and civil discourse are not mutually exclusive. Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik is similarly persuaded. In an unusual public statement, he called upon extremists on both ends of the highly-charged political spectrum and in the media to tone down their vitriolic rhetoric, saying that there is a direct connection between forceful, often violent words, and irrational acts like the near-fatal shooting of Giffords.

This horrific event struck home in a particular way for me. A NYTimes map shows the location of the shooting in Tucson (where I lived for twenty years) -- directly across the street from my ex-father-in-law's flower shop. The city is a pocket of liberalism in an otherwise emphatically conservative state. What a shame that even here, the bigotry and hatred of the far right can reach out and strike down good and decent souls.

I give the final word on this dark event to Keith Olbermann, whose commentary on MSNBC's Coundown is articulate, impassioned and principled. You will find both the video and a written transcript of Olbermann's thoughts here. I can think of no finer spokesman in the call for a return to sanity and balance in our public and private lives. His words are sobering, an appeal to conscience and to civility -- qualities exemplified by Gabrielle Giffords herself. Our better selves must prevail. The stakes are too great, not only for this generation, but for all generations to follow.

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