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Tucson Tragedy Demands Discourse Recall

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Slow down America. Slow down.

There is no finish line awaiting the fastest to pass judgment. There is no prize for the swiftest rebuke of political figures supposedly not earnest or sincere enough in their apologies for violent rhetoric in the months and years preceding the tragedy in Tucson.

There is no office of any elected official hanging in the balance. Nobody is set to go to the polls this Tuesday, the next, or anytime soon.

Slow down America. Slow down.

Those on the left have been working overtime to find the proverbial missing link between the actions of Jared Loughner and the rhetoric of the right. The smoking... well, um, you know.

It doesn't exist.

Those on the right are at DEFCON 2, the political equivalent of football's prevent defense; trying to thwart blame being laid at the feet of those such as Michael Savage, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.

It's a poorly-conceived strategy.

One can indisputably link Loughner's premeditated acts of violence to the Tea Party no more than one could link Mo'Kelly's premeditated acts of good conscience to the Democratic party. It just doesn't work that way. You can search my computer, my house, my sock drawer... there won't be any odes to Keith Olbermann or sonnets in honor of Nancy Pelosi to be found anywhere. My community and volunteer work are no way overtly connected to my political ideals.

It just doesn't work that way. Related? Probably on some level, but there is no direct path of connection.

Nevertheless, words matter.

In September of 1963, the Sixteenth St. Baptist Church in Birmingham was bombed, killing four children. A week before the bombing, Alabama governor George Wallace told the New York Times that stopping integration in Alabama only required a "few first-class funerals."

Coincidence? Violent rhetoric? There is no dotted line leading directly from one to the other... but words matter. Know your own history, America.

Or think of it this way...

Corporations will spend more than 3 million dollars for a 30-second commercial spot during next month's Super Bowl, because they know intimately and fiscally that words matter. Along those same lines, nobody will be able to definitively trace whether Mo'Kelly subsequently bought a particular beer, a particular chocolate bar, a specific soda or some tortilla chips because of a given commercial during that moment in time. Yet and still, marketing gurus around the world can cite innumerable studies chapter and verse that have conclusively determined that words (and their messages) matter.

(And they would be right.)

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday we celebrate this week, had no Facebook page, no Twitter feed, television or radio program in which to convince the masses of African-Americans to turn the other cheek in the face of fire hoses and firearms. With only powerful oratory at his side, hundreds of thousands lined the Washington Mall on his journey to forever changing America.

Those same words ultimately led to a bullet through his neck. Words matter.

One could argue that Harvey Milk and former San Francisco Mayor George Moscone weren't assassinated in 1978 purely on the strength of their political affiliations, but the power their words wielded while in office.

Adolf Hitler began not with a gas chamber, but with a poster on a public wall.

Words matter and often lead to both intended and unintended consequences.

Readers do not point their browsers to The Huffington Post, Foxnews.com, The National Review Online or DailyKos.com simply to look at the ingenious html coding and pretty color paneling.

Words matter and invariably inspire action, often leading to unintended consequences.

When you "share" this post on your Facebook page, you've tacitly agreed. When you email it to your favorite political associate or adversary, you've also tacitly agreed. When you've cut and pasted portions to post on your blog and rebut for your own posterity... you've most certainly agreed. For some, that is as far as it goes.

For some...

Although commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin only inspire Mo'Kelly to write well-crafted and reasoned rebuttals to their monologues... it would be foolish to allege that their collective "inspiration" begins and ends with just words. They know better, and hopefully so do you, too.

Limbaugh's radio program boasts more than 15 million listeners weekly. Anyone wish to wager that all 15 million are mentally sane and balanced?

Didn't think so.

Words matter.

The converse is also true with Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

Words matter. Slow down America, slow down.

If you take conservatives at their word, President Obama mobilized a majority of voters, including a nation of young people to choose him simply on the strength of his words alone.

Maybe... maybe not. But even conservatives understood and recognized the power of words.

Slow down America. Slow down.

The issue is not whether Jared Loughner is mentally unstable -- we know this to be true. The question is NOT whether he specifically subscribed to Tea Party ideology or is some closeted, extremist right-winger. Being mentally unstable is separate and distinct from whether someone is "uninfluenced." They are not mutually exclusive concepts, and arguably instability opens the door for greater influence.

Words matter and have unintended consequences.

The question ultimately is whether we as Americans are willing to accept responsibility for the toxic political climate we've produced.

Our public discourse is broken, and the fault is collectively our own. There are those who've added fuel to the fire and there are those who were complicit, sitting idly by and watching it burn. You know who you are respectively.

Automobiles are routinely recalled for the unintended consequences of faulty manufacturing and the lives they negatively impact. The same should be true for our political discourse. It's time to recall it in full. It does not matter why Jared Loughner found it reasonable to kill six people while injuring 14 more or whose vitriolic rhetoric was more influential along the way. It should only matter whether we as Americans are willing to accept collective responsibility for creating a political environment in which could be called into question as to possibly contributing to this tragedy.

If we have reason to debate whether our discourse contributed to the tragedy, then it probably has. Any debate over whether we've crossed the line means at best we've pressed too close to it. At worst, we've gone too far.

It's time to recall this brand of political discourse. Not because it's politically expedient, popular or safe but because our conscience tells us it's right.

"Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' But conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but because conscience tells one it is right."

- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Slow down America, words still matter. Happy Birthday Dr. King.

Morris W. O'Kelly (Mo'Kelly) is author of the syndicated entertainment and socio-political column The Mo'Kelly Report. For more Mo'Kelly, go to his site. Mo'Kelly can be reached at mrmokelly@gmail.com and he welcomes all commentary.

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