Last March I posted a column "America's Year of Living Dangerously," in reaction to the deterioration of our political debate "from rancorous to poisonous" and the acts of political violence against Democrats such as Gabrielle Giffords following passage of health care reform. I was shocked that someone would even target Gabby, since she was such an exceptional and dedicated public servant, and called on John Boehner to not just condemn the acts of violence but the hate the GOP has so assiduously pollinated which gave it life.
The "health care" shootings were clearly a warning and I concluded that while Gabby would be judged on Election Day for her vote on health care, " all of us will be accountable for what we do now to prevent these seeds of hate from taking root in this dangerous year."
Unfortunately, the GOP continued to add fuel to the simmering cauldron that is Arizona today, with Gifford's Tea Party opponent raising money by offering supporters the opportunity to "get on target" and remove Giffords by shooting an M-16 with the candidate. While Gabby barely survived last year's Republican tidal wave, on Saturday it was hate that won by a landslide.
Some have attempted to dismiss the tragedy as an "unimaginable" act of a deranged man. This ignores the many death threats her office regularly received. In addition, the fact remains that deranged people are always among us making it reasonably foreseeable that charged rhetoric calling on supporters to "reload" and remove Congresswoman Giffords could lead to violence -- especially when Gabby already had been the target of political violence in a state that one local sheriff describes as the mecca of hate.
While a tragedy of this nature requires no amplification, what is particularly disturbing is that the cancer of vitriol that has spread so malignantly across our body politic would consume the life of Christina Green who was born on September 11th, 2001 amidst a brief period of national unity unmatched since World War II but which is now a distant memory.
Gabby and her husband Mark thanked me for the prior column and I responded by telling them that I just wanted them to know that people out there "got their back". That is something all of us can do now in response to Tucson's day of Terror.
Just as midnight gives way to dawn, so must we fight darkness with light. We can shine a light on hate speech and incitements to violence by promptly exposing and denouncing it wherever we see it and calling it for what it really is. This is because the offense of hate speech is not just its content but the assumption that the listener must share these views.
This is especially true when hate is wrapped in the flag, since there is nothing patriotic about hate, bigotry or violence against public servants chosen by the people. As President Clinton stated in response to the Oklahoma City bombing, those who "appropriate our sacred symbols for paranoid purposes and compare yourselves to colonial militias who fought for the democracy you now rail against, you are wrong... How dare you call yourselves patriots and heroes."
We must shine this light not only on those who incite hate or call for violence, but those who reap its rewards and too often turn a blind eye towards such actions. For the fact is that leaders who purposefully elect to ignore, minimize or deflect attention from bigotry and hate are equally complicit in the offense and should be condemned as accessories and cowards.
If enough of us do this with half the energy, spirit and determination that Gabby has brought to public service, we can go a long way towards reclaiming public debate for what Robert Kennedy referred to on the night of Martin Luther King's assassination as the "vast majority of... people in this country [who] want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land."
So pray for Gabby and our wounded nation with a hope that our days of "living dangerously" will end and that Tuscon's day of Terror will lead to a renaissance of reason in American politics.
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