As I write this, the motivation behind the shooting of my friend Gabby Giffords and eleven others isn't clear. We don't know what prompted the shooter to show up at Gabby's Congress on Your Corner at a Tucson grocery store with a semiautomatic pistol and the motivation to kill innocent people. We don't know if it was unmitigated hatred and misdirected rage or paranoid delusion. We don't know if was politics -- aimed at Gabby's courageous stands on health care and immigration. I suspect in the end, we'll learn it was a combination of factors that led this young man to go on the rampage that shook the nation.
In a way, though, it doesn't really matter what prompted this act of senseless violence. What really matters is that we do everything we can to prevent it from happening again. And the first thing we can do is to crank down the rhetoric a few notches.
I work in a world of words -- words that inspire, words that persuade and, increasingly, words that can send the message that it is acceptable to hate. All of us -- no matter our party affiliation or political persuasion -- must accept this fact and take responsibility for the environment these words help create.
No one should think that one side or the other of the political spectrum is without blame. Whether it's a conservative politician publishing a map with a bullseye on Gabby's district or a liberal blogger saying Gabby is "dead to me," too many have forgotten what it means to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
A good place to start a more civil dialog would be for my Republican colleagues in the House to change the name of the bill they have introduced to repeal health care reform. The bill, titled the "Repeal the Job Killing Health Care Law Act," was set to come up for a vote this week, but in the wake of Gabby's shooting, it has been postponed at least until next week.
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not suggesting that the name of that one piece of legislation somehow led to the horror of this weekend -- but is it really necessary to put the word "killing" in the title of a major piece of legislation? I don't think that word is in there by accident -- my Republican friends know as well as anyone the power of words to send a message. But in this environment and at this moment in our nation's history, it's not the message we should be sending.
During the summer of 2009, the debate on health care reform was emotional and intense. At its best, it represented the free exchange of ideas that makes this country great. At its worst, it generated death threats and acts of violence. Personally, I think it's a waste of time when we should be focusing on more pressing matters like the economy and the deficit. But the Republicans are running the House now and they have the right to set their priorities. At the same time, they have a responsibility to help turn down the temperature on the nation's debate and help restore an element of civility to the discussion. Changing the name of what they consider to be their signature piece of legislation would be an excellent place to start.
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