I told Julia the other day that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords HAD to survive, that we should do everything we could to pray for her to live. When she asked me Why? I told her that we as a country needed her to Live, to prove that insanity and violence do not rule the day, so that public servants will continue to serve, and so that we remain at peace with ourselves as a country born from political differences.
There are so many issues raised by the tragedy in Tucson. As readers of this blog can probably already tell, I FIRMLY BELIEVE that Words Do Have Consequences. Bullies, for example, throughout history have had perceived power over others as a direct result of the words they use to belittle and denigrate their victims. And, just as words have negative consequences, they also have positive ones. Yes We Can comes to mind. Think of the supportive and complementary words you give to your children, your co-workers, and your friends in order to lift them up in difficult times. No one can dispute the power of words.
Of course, it's not that simple. Giffords' assassin didn't try to kill her Because of words, political or otherwise. He was almost certainly mentally deranged. His mental incapacity, combined with his targeting of Giffords -- we don't yet exactly know why he targeted her, though he did so months if not years ago -- resulted in a spree of violence that swept up innocent bystanders in its wake.
In situations like these, we naturally and almost automatically look to see Who is at Fault, and Who is to Blame. It is too easy, however, to blame a specific person or group for Jared Loughners' actions. I would argue, though, that it is also too easy to blame Only him. In our society, like it or not, we are often responsible for certain others' actions. Just as employers are responsible for their employees in certain circumstances, individuals may also be morally, if not always legally, responsible for foreseeable or not wholly unpredictable actions of others. In this regard, it seems that Loughners' family was paralyzed by their own incapacity to effectively deal with his actions, either out of fear or because of their own incapacities. Children don't come with Users' Manuals, and not everyone should be a parent. His teachers at his community college also clearly had the power and authority to demand intervention, to protect themselves and Loughner himself. They also did nothing, either because they didn't take the time, or more likely because they didn't know they had such authority. Loughners' neighbors were also clearly aware that he was unstable, but never alerted authorities to his bizarre and frightening behavior. There are so many "woulda coulda shoulda" scenarios that for the time being, it's almost useless to dwell on them; that will be reserved for the Tucson victims' families, should they decide to pursue legal actions of their own.
What is abundantly clear from the news coverage of this event is that Rep. Giffords herself believed that Words and Ads and Rancor and Politically Charged Rhetoric were affecting politics and politicians. She herself had raised the issue of Sarah Palin's Rifle Crosshairs before the last election. As recently as the day before the shooting, in an email to a friend, she asked him to join her to discuss ways to reduce the angry personal and political discourse that seems to have invaded every corner of media and politics. Any lawyer worth her salt will tell you, one takes his victim as he finds her. Giffords felt susceptible, perhaps even afraid, as a result of the angry and violently charged discourse that she believed was having a serious, negative impact on society and on elected officials like herself.
Words sent out via large megaphones will inevitably land on the ears of Everyone, including the rational and the irrational. Don't the speakers, and the holders of the megaphones, have some obligation to act responsibly and morally? Just as we set age limits on movies, and alcohol, and voting, and cigarettes, for example, shouldn't Americans demand that those individuals disseminating words and images comport with reasonableness, and with societal norms and standards? Even Amazon.com took down the pedophile's book, for example. There has always been a fine line in the sand within the First Amendment. Perhaps those responsible for the megaphone should start paying a bit closer attention to its effectiveness, even when that effectiveness is different than anticipated.
It is Not a coincidence that Rep. Giffords repeatedly raised these issues, and then was intentionally gunned down at a political gathering.
In closing, I'd also like to say that it is Too Easy to blame Sarah Palin for the level of violence committed in Tucson. No matter how disingenuous her explanation is of the crosshairs on her website, one woman's words don't suffice to explain a mentally deranged person's violent actions.
However, listen to what Palin has recently said regarding the incident (I think a new New Year's Resolution may be to never ever quote her again in my blog, but I just can't promise that completely ....):
"I listened at first puzzled, then with concerned, and now with sadness to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event," Palin said."If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas. But especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."
Wow. "A Blood Libel." I'm pretty sure that she didn't get the memo .... We can only hope and pray that her supporters did.