Not long after the news broke about the shootings of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, I received an e-mail from someone (who will remain unnamed) urging me not to lash out or point fingers. I could almost sense him fighting the urge to use the phrase, "Don't go off half-cocked." He ended the e-mail with: "Don't go blaming talk radio or the Tea Party for this. Let cooler heads prevail."
Well, y'know, sometimes cooler heads can just kiss my butt.
I would never say that the Tea Party wanted somebody to put a bullet in Gabrielle Giffords' head, but at the same time, you can't tell me that everybody in that movement feels bad that it happened.
I would never claim that talk-show lemmings—who leapfrog each other in a desperate attempt to be the one who is most out there—are giving secret orders to listeners to go out and shoot members of Congress, but at the same time, you can't tell me that the ratcheting up of the vile content by some of these creeps isn't enough to push some Travis Bickle-wannabe over the edge.
And I don't believe that Sarah Palin wanted Gabby Giffords to get shot, but damn you if you try to claim that putting a bulls-eye over the district of a United States congresswoman is all just good, clean fun.
This all goes way past disingenuous. You can't build a bonfire in a clearing and then deny any culpability when the embers get caught in the breeze and ignite dry tinder somewhere downwind. You don't have to ascribe to chaos theory to make that connection. You do, however, have to practice self-delusion on a grand scale to claim that the connection doesn't exist.
As Rush Limbaugh himself loves to say, words mean things; words are important. Messages tend to morph and degrade as they are passed along from one person to the next, even if they are done so on a word-for-word basis. It should surprise no one that hate speech that is spewed as self-congratulatory cleverness can, after a few iterations, become an insistent whisper in some nut-job's head.
On the afternoon of Jan. 1, I was in a radio studio with three other guys, talking politics. One of the guys, Jonathan Hoffman, is a libertarian and a contributor to this paper. A generally affable fellow, Hoffman got on a roll near the end of the show and described President Obama and his backers as people who are bent on destroying this country.
I didn't get a chance to reply, and it ate away at me the entire week. I wasn't scheduled to be on the following week, so I planned to call in to respond to his wildly irresponsible charge. But then the shooting happened.
I'm a lifelong Democrat, and I don't like much of what the Republicans do and/or try to do. In broad generalities, I believe that Republicans don't give a crap about the environment and poor people, and that much of what they do legislatively is designed solely to keep themselves in office and to help their fat, rich friends get fatter and richer, which also helps keep them in office. However, I don't think I have ever heard of, read about or met a Republican about whom I would say, "He's bent on destroying the country."
That kind of talk only goes in one direction, and we'd all be better off if it came to a halt. (I'm sure that some will claim that similar invective was directed at George W. Bush, but claiming that someone is ruining the country by his actions is much different than accusing an elected official of wanting to ruin the country.) I don't know if the hate-speakers are capable of seeing that distinction.
I hope there's a special place in hell for all of the media outlets that scrambled to be the first to declare Giffords dead. What ever happened to getting the story right? In this world of shrinking readership for daily newspapers and the splintering of on-air media, how about distinguishing oneself by doing things correctly? Right is always better than fast.
The media weren't the only culprits, either. A friend of a friend who happens to be a member of the Arizona Legislature was texting everyone and telling them that Giffords had passed away. The tone was, "I know her. I'm her good friend, and I know that she has died."
I'm actually proud to live in a community that reacted the way it did, from the woman who grabbed a spare magazine away from the shooter, to the emergency-response teams and medical personnel who all did their jobs heroically. I'm especially proud of Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who spoke his mind and did his job while wearing his emotions on his sleeve. He focused in with laser-like precision and told all the Tree of Liberty jackasses what they could do with their cooler heads.
I don't want to hear about "senseless tragedy." This was a calculated act with a cause and an effect. Let's just hope that part of that effect is to admit that the cause exists—and to take peaceful steps to deal with it.