As the Dust Remains in the Air

In the hours following the Tucson shooting, I really thought that the country would react in a similar way we did following the Oklahoma City bombing – where we would take a collective pause in our political discourse and tamp down on the political rhetoric and images used to describe our political opponents.

On a personal level, I’ve lamented the inability of our government to work in a bi-partisan and congenial manner.  I loved John McCain, the old (or younger, depending on how you look at it) John McCain, for his (previous) disregard for party lines and work with the opposition on legislation in the best interest of the country.  It appears, at least since the 2008 election cycle, that crossing party lines, either party, is now seen as near- treasonous and a sin of a collaborator.  Political images of our elected leaders depict evil incarnate – it’s not necessarily just President Obama, although there are certainly more negative images of our current president than ever by virtue of the fact that he’s the one in charge at the moment.  President Bush enjoyed an equal amount of disgusting negativity as well — all of which appears justifiable depending on what side of the political spectrum you identify with. 

Similar imagery and words were used in the 1990’s to depict a Clinton White House that was at odds with the citizenry.  A government out of control – patriots needed to defend our constitution from a government that was hell bent on taking away our constitutional freedoms, most especially our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.  At that time the Conservative Right preyed on these fears and fanned the flames of that anti-government message which culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.  The scope of the destruction of the Murrow Federal Building was so overwhelming, the rhetoric literally died along with the 168 lives that were lost.  There was no doubt in the aftermath of Oklahoma City that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were motivated for revenge against a government that, they believed, infringed upon the rights of the citizenry at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and Waco, Texas.

Fifteen years later, the political rhetoric has again reached the zenith.  Once again the government is portrayed as not one of the people, and certainly not for the people – but against the people.  We have a president that is believed to be, by a significant number of oppositionists, to not even be an American citizen (and therefore, not a legitimately elected official), but who is also viewed by a significant minority of people as an “enemy of the state.”

So similarities were in place for a strategic pause in the aftermath of Tucson, only this time the landscape has changed dramatically.  Conservatives, at least pundits, are more inclined to follow the Palin prescription of “Don’t Retreat – Reload.”

That Jared Loughner has been described – at least by a classmate – as a “left wing pot head,” it’s pretty obvious that this 22 year old mentally unstable alleged shooter was a registered Democrat that was influenced by Goth and Mein Kampf to try to assassinate Gabrielle Giffords.  Since it is now clear that Loughner was not an active Tea Partier; therefore, he could not have been influenced by Palin and company, therefore any calls to tone down the political rhetoric are absolutely unfounded and moreover, any attempt to link the two is “insidious, dishonest, and divorced from reality.”

“I don’t know what  agenda was held by Jared Loughner, or if he was under the influence of people like Sarah Palin, but it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a congressperson on Sarah’s Top 20 “hit list” (don’t know what else to call it when you dot the map with cross hairs) would not end up being targeted by someone less than mentally stable (because obviously mentally sane people don’t act on the insanity spewed by these people).  But I can tell you with certainty, there are some in America tonight that are applauding Jared Loughner for having the guts to put Sarah’s plan in to action.

I should have gone on to clarify that I don’t believe that Palin bears any responsibility for Tucson massacre – negative images aside.  Only in an episode of Law and Order would a Jack McCoy attempt to try Palin as a Loughner-accomplice.  That said, I would have hoped to see more Republican leaders follow the initial cautions uttered by Lamar Alexander who said:

“We ought to cool it, tone it down, treat each other with great respect, respect each other’s ideas, and even on difficult issues like immigration or taxes or the health care law, do our best not to inflame passions.”

Even House Speaker John Boehner issued calls for Americans to come together in this tragedy, but one thing is certain – as I write this, it is clear that we are as divided as a people as we have been since the 1850’s.  I have watched conversations on Facebook, opinions written by average people in response to news stories – from The Atlantic, to the Washington Post, to The Annapolis Capital (and on and on) and the one theme that emerges is a Left that demands a recalcitrant Right to reject the negativity and hate-laced propaganda and a Right that, instead of retreating, is firing back by saying Loughner wasn’t one of ours – he belonged to you whack jobs on the Left.  

Regardless of Loughner’s political leanings, a tragedy took place in Tucson this last weekend.  In the micro, six lives were lost, 12 more injured, and one seriously deranged young man arrested.  In the macro, our political system continues to slide down a path of no return.  Our government of the people, by the people, and for the people is in jeopardy.  Our elected leaders will have to take measures that ensure their safety, which potentially takes them into even more seclusion than they already are from their constituents.  Meanwhile our winner-take-all politics means there is no ability to reflect and/or change course as doing so could signify a weakness to be exploited.  Additionally, reading the commentary of John Q. Public – there is no advantage in doing so.  The public has already divided into camps and the fires are burning.
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