What Role Did Incivility, Disrespect and Political Rhetoric Play in the Tuscon Shooting?
The short answer is: none.
The terrible shootings in Tuscon are already being co-opted as a political issue. Unfortunately, due to the alleged political leanings of the shooter, Jared Lougher, politicians on America’s left were immediately the most vocal about the role of right wing political rhetoric and right leaning media in provoking or inspiring Loughner’s actions.
Even Sherriff Clarence Dupnik, one of the lead investigators in the case stated that political rhetoric inevitably incites and causes this kind of tragedy. He went so far as to say that in his opinion part of the reason for these incendiary conditions is that “one party opposes efforts to make this a better country.” His remarks were specifically aimed at Republicans who opposed President Obama’s health care initiatives as Loughner appears to have taken issue with Congresswoman Gifford’s support of health care reform.
Have we reached a level where political rhetoric and incivility is the root cause of violence?
If so, this is nothing new. In fact, almost every act of violence against political figures from Julius Caesar to JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. to Ronald Reagan and now Gabrielle Giffords can be associated with vitriolic political rhetoric and expression.
Is the level of incivility and disrespect now out of control? I’m an unwavering champion of civility and respect. At the same time I’m an unwavering champion of freedom of expression and that you passionately express and defend your position. If the right is guilty of incivility- the hand of the left is just as dirty.
Consider Sherriff Dupnik’s remarks. He states that a group of people is simply acting in opposition to a sincere effort on the part of another to make America better. That remark does not even have to be construed to imply that one group, obviously his, is right and the oppositional group is wrong.
Fact: People of liberal ideology generally supported the currently enacted health care reform bill; people of conservative mindset generally supported other methods to reform the health care system. Which side is right and which is wrong? Both sides passionately defend their positions and they’re right to do so. This is not a right vs. wrong issue- it’s a complicated legal and legislative issue that goes far beyond the simple popular debate. The core of this issue challenges the fundamental policies and procedures that define our political and legal system.
Let the debate continue- and let both sides stand on their values.
But- can’t we all just get along? NO!
We can disagree respectfully and debate civilly, but the fact remains that we are a diverse nation made up of people who have distinct sets of core values and beliefs. We must sometimes agree to disagree- without resorting to incivility and certainly without devolving to violence.
Jared Loughlin is a near perfect textbook case of the lone sociopath. He is a classic psychotic who shares a profile with nearly every classic case of mass murder in history.
- Loughlin was a loner- few friends and little if any known social or political affiliations.
- He had a long and repeated history of aberrant behavior starting in the 10th grade.
- He was rejected by the few formal associations he sought- rejected by the Army for failing a drug test and lately removed from his community college classes for his behavior.
- There is a well documented stream of sociopathic emails and web site posts- most of which were dismissed.
- He was referred to psychological treatment which he apparently refused.
In short, Jared Loughlin is a nut. His alleged political views are unimportant.
Rational people can be passionate, vocal and even angry without resorting to violence. MOST people understand the nature of political rhetoric and keep it in perspective. MOST people have political and social debates with friends, associates and other people without killing them.
Would a more civil and respectful culture have prevented this attack- or any other? It’s not likely. It is difficult to regulate anti-social behavior until it crosses clear legal boundaries and it’s impossible to regulate psychotic thoughts. We simply do not arrest people for being weird.
Much of my life and work is dedicated to creating a more respectful society; not because I believe this will eliminate all our problems but because I know respect is the basis of cooperation, productivity, progress and most important- happiness.
That does not mean we have to agree all the time.
Respect, however, must be consistent. One side or the other making accusations is pointless. We’re all swimming in the same sewer.
- Protesters carried signs depicting President Obama as Hitler- protesters also carried signs depicting President Bush as Hitler, as well as hanging and burning him in effigy.
- Sarah Palin was accused of inciting violence by using gun sight images on a website asking allies to “target” vulnerable political rivals- a prominent Democratic website used similar imagery.
- Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck are driving maniacs to violence? And what about Janeane Garafolo and Keith Olbermann?
I’m not bringing these example up to provoke or defend either side- just to point out that in these instances, the offended side always screams bloody murder and the perpetrator always points out the short memory or thin skin of the offended.
My goodness- I used the words “bloody murder,” will that incite someone to commit a heinous act of violence? Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
Equally ridiculous are pundits today calling for federal regulation of inflammatory language including references to firearms and military terminology in political discourse on public airwaves. Right- make it illegal to say “we’re going to target our opponents,” “we’re going to battle,” and “fire a warning shot across the bow.”
Regulating metaphors as a new responsibility for the FCC? Even the proposition of such an idea is terrifying and far more dangerous to society as a whole than infrequent acts of violence by sociopaths- and they are infrequent. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that despite current rhetoric, violent crime in America has been in steady decline over the past decade.
Do we need to restore a higher level of civility and respect in our culture? Certainly- and I am one of the strongest advocates of this movement. Do we need to strip our language of all potentially provocative language? We’ll have precious few words left to work with.
Put this entire situation in context. This was the act of a lone sociopath. This is an extremely rare occurrence. This event appropriately raises our awareness and concerns- but our response must be rational.
And that’s exactly where our rational should be directed. Any attempt to apply rational reasoning to the actions of an irrational psychopath is misdirected and futile. In a free society, the only thing you are never completely free of is danger.
The heroes that acted in the face of grave danger and prevented an even more horrific tragedy deserve our admiration and gratitude. All of us should emulate their example and be prepared to act with the courage and decisiveness they all displayed.
Jim Bouchard is co-host of The 49th Parallel representing the USA perspective. He is also a speaker, media personality and author of Think Like a Black Belt.