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Giffords Shooting Demands Calm Political And Rhetorical Response

Jerome Campbell |
January 10, 2011 | 9:11 p.m. PST


Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman outside of a grocery store during a public meeting with constituents on Saturday. While the brutality of the incident astounded lawmakers, the action sparked outreach between party lines despite the many months of inflammatory rhetoric beforehand.

In the days following the shooting in Arizona, both parties called for unity amongst political figures.

"This is a time for the House to pull together as an institution, one body, unified in our common purpose of serving the American people," said Majority Speaker John Boehner (R. Ohio).

While the true motive of the shooter remains unknown, a working theory proposes that the inflammatory rhetoric used by the Tea Party movement subliminally influenced the shooter, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, to engage in violent acts against Giffords.

In particular, Sarah Palin published a map last year that put crosshairs on districts of Democratic representatives running for reelection, including Giffords’ district, and used phrases like "Don’t retreat; reload."

Also, Giffords’ 2010 opponent held a rally event where supporters could shoot M16s to “Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office.”

It would be unfair to blame Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement for what happened to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. However, it would be equally wrong to act as though the shooting had no relation to the inflammatory language used by some government representatives.

Political officials like Allen West, now a Florida congressman, have used militaristic language against their opponents during reelection as well. "Let me tell you what you've got to do. You've got to make the fellow scared to come out of his house. That's the only way that you're going to win," declared West. By using visceral rhetoric to excite the public, some citizens become fiercely involved and adapt unethical routes to make their opinions heard.

The current emotional state of the American political system has both politicians and citizens on edge. Many politicians forget that they are the role models that people follow and their actions serve as a model for others to follow. When Americans see respected lawmakers shouting out during the proceedings of Congress, they take that as a model for their behavior. For instance, the violent political resistance to Obama’s Healthcare Bill by shouting “You lie” during Congress prompted voters to react with the same vicious attitude.

Weeks later, a protester at a Capitol Hill rally against the healthcare overhaul carried a sign that said, “Next Time, We’ll Be Armed.” Congressmen were threatened, and their offices vandalized, in the lead-up to the healthcare overhaul vote.

Although politicians are using this event as a message for their role in the political system, unfortunately lives were lost in the process. While it is nice to see that politicians have begun to take really notice of the content that they are relying to the public, only time will tell if the events that have happened in the last few days have calmed the political sphere.


Reach reporter Jerome Campbell here.



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