Time to Calm Down

The unfortunate shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a piece of news that has been dominating the headlines for some time now, has sadly been manipulated by both sides of the political divide to it’s own advantage. It is sad and disappointing that in a time of political crisis such as this, politicians and legislators have chosen to exaggerate and snipe at each other rather than taking a more cool-headed approach to the issue.

Democrats certainly came out swinging, mixing their condolences for Ms. Gifford’s family with blame for Republicans, the Tea Party and Sarah Palin. Republican’s and the political right certainly do use incendiary language and imagery of guns much more than Democrats do. But it is simply absurd to claim that Republicans alone were the cause of the shooting.
Much has been said about Sarah Palin’s map targeting certain congressional districts. Sarah Palin’s aides have tried to deflect the attention by claiming that they were “never ever, ever intended to be gun sights”, something that is blatantly not true given that Palin herself referred to the cross-hairs as a “bull’s-eye”. Regardless of whether the cross-hairs were or werent’ gun-sights is beside the point. It is simply absurd to claim that the map or the cross-hairs themselves were implicitly calling for violence against the relevant Congressional districts. If this assumption were true, then surely there would have been far more violent attacks.

On the other end of the spectrum, Tea Party group shave tried to blame ‘Leftist’ for the shooting. The Tea Part Nation founder Judson Phillips said in an article that the shooter was “a leftist lunatic”. He called on the Tea Party movement to “push back harder with the simple truth. The shooter was a liberal lunatic. Emphasis on both words,”. Again, an entirely unfounded assertion that seems even less believable than those made against Sarah Palin. If he was indeed a ‘liberal lunatic’, why attack one of the few elected democrats in a largely red state? Surely an attack against a republican would have been more in line with his supposedly ‘leftist’ ideology?

At the end of the day, neither side is right. Such an unfortunate event should not been the time for more political sniping. The New York Times reported the following.

Leaders in both parties sought Sunday to project a nonpartisan civility, with President Obama, whose advisers were weighing the possibility of a national address, calling for a national moment of silence and the House speaker, John A. Boehner, replacing a contentious health care debate on Wednesday with a bipartisan security briefing for lawmakers.

Yet beneath that public sense of comity was a subtle round of jockeying — on cable news, blogs, Twitter and even Ms. Palin’s Facebook page — as both sides sought to gain the high ground and deal with the risks and challenges presented by the shootings.

What we should be looking for is more of the former and less of the latter. Let’s hope politicians are smart enough, whether because the actually mean it or because it seems a better move politically, to rise above the fray. We have got to tone it down, the political discourse has to get less physical, less name-calling, less barbaric and much more civilised. The political realities, effectively summarised by the New York Times are as follows:

The shooting attack has put Mr. Boehner and other elected leaders in a delicate position, at risk of being seen as politicizing the situation even as they must confront its inevitable political implications. And it comes at a delicate time, at the end of the week in which Republicans assumed control of the House, marking the conclusion of a contentious campaign season and the start of a new era of divided government in Washington.

For Democrats, the challenge is how to voice their suspicion that overheated rhetoric, especially from the right, is leading to threats and actual violence without being perceived as blaming Republicans for what may have been the act of a lone madman.

For Republicans, the challenge is to seem sympathetic but not defensive, especially given the contentious policy issues, particularly immigration and gun rights, that have been simmering in Ms. Giffords’s southeastern Arizona district and had led to previous threats against her as well as vandalism of her Tucson office shortly after the health care law was adopted last year.