Squashing political speech not answer

Freedom New Mexico

We add our thoughts and prayers to the many for Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the six people killed, including a senior federal judge, a 9-year-old girl fascinated by politics, a congressional aide and three other innocents, as well as the 13 people wounded, in the attack Saturday in Tucson.

The accused, Jared Loughner, is a deeply disturbed young man whose violent proclivities had frightened several acquaintances but who had not yet done anything overt enough to bring him to the attention of law enforcement. The attack has shaken the confidence of millions of Americans in our capacity to work out differences civilly and peacefully.

Whether this horrendous attack was the result of a political climate in which violent rhetoric and potentially inflammatory metaphors — talk of “targeting,” “crosshairs,” “bulls-eyes,” “attacking,” or even “destroying” — have created an environment calculated to tip mentally unstable people over the edge into actual violence is another question. The immediate effort to blame this assassination attempt on the likes of Glenn Beck, the Tea Party and Sarah Palin reeks of political opportunism.

You don’t have to be a Sarah Palin fan to know that a map on her website last year putting “crosshairs” on 20 swing districts, including Ms. Giffords’, may have been poor taste but was not an incitement to violence.

In some ways the problem runs deeper than that. All too many Americans identify the “Left” or the “Right” as the chief enemy of all that is good and true. For some, our side’s spokesmen are clever and insightful while the other side is guilty of hate speech and incitement. For many of us, hatred of “the other” in American politics and our willingness to demonize them is more powerful than fear of terrorism or hostility to actual dictators and thugs who brazenly murder or imprison political opponents. This is sad.

Thus the immediate attempt to blame the “extreme right wing” for the rampage of a man whose paranoia and hostility were only tangentially related to anything remotely political, whose resentment of Rep. Giffords was long-standing and rooted in reasons — or unreasons — at this point known only to his own fevered imaginings.

The desire to blame larger social forces or trends even more than the deeply disturbed and reprehensible young man who actually pulled the trigger may also represent an urge to rationalize our vulnerability. In any society of 300 million people, a few of them will commit acts of violence the rest of us can only deal with through the insufficient word “senseless.”

An open society will always be vulnerable to the unbalanced among us, expensive efforts to ensure “homeland security” notwithstanding. Few of us will ever encounter such madness directly, but knowing about such incidents — events we cannot control — leaves us all feeling a bit less safe, a lot less comfortable.

Whether effective remedies to such violence are actually available is a tough question. Trying to stifle political speech, however objectionable we may find it, is not an answer.