To the editor:
The current debate over public discourse and its role in the Tucson shootings deserves some attention. Sheriff Dupnik, Paul Krugman, Sarah Palin, President Obama and Charles Krauthammer present differing views on the matter. Dupnik and Krugman blame the climate of hatred toward public figures as contributing causes of political violence and possibly this shooting. The others disagree.
The president, speaking at the memorial in Tucson, reminded us that we can’t know exactly what triggered the attacks. Yet he called for more civility in public discourse to “help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them (the victims) proud.”
Palin and Krauthammer wouldn’t go even that far. Palin undercut her own claim by accusing those who raised the possibility of a connection of manufacturing “a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn.” How this is supposed to incite people who, she had just claimed, act on their own was left unclear. Krauthammer simply denied the power of suggestion.
While we may never know how influential the daily flood of vitriolic and ad hominem political speech in America was on this particular atrocity, it seems likely that it influenced it and almost certain that the current climate of speech acts as a distraction from a badly needed, calm consideration of the merits of public policies like banking reform, health care, education, and economic justice, to name just four.