Pundits, scribes and talk-show hosts of all stripes are attempting to make sense — or, in some cases, hay — out of the Tucson shooting.
In the immediate wake of the horrific shootings in Tucson, it was difficult to tell which came first: accusations by the left that heated rhetoric on the right created an atmosphere that fueled the atrocity, or accusations from the right that the left would claim such.
The swiftness with which the debate was joined was certainly suspicious; one could almost hear a collective “gulp” as bloviators from across the political spectrum wondered where these particular public-opinion chips would land.
Not so our elected officials. New House Speaker John Boehner acted with poise and sensitivity in both word and deed following the shootings, in which one of his Democratic colleagues, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, was severely wounded, and one of her aides was among the six killed.
Delaying debate on rescinding the 2010 health care overhaul for one week was not only appropriate, it was wise. This was the topic that put the political kettle on the boil back in the August 2009, spurring ugly language, threats and acts of vandalism at some congressional offices, including Giffords’.
President Obama delivered remarks that were worthy of both the catastrophe and his office:
“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized,” he said at a memorial service Wednesday at the University of Arizona. “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
And Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado has suggested that Republicans and Democrats sit together for this month’s State of the Union address, rather than divided by party, as is customary. It would be little more than a symbolic gesture, of course, but a welcomed one.
Still, if it was a quiet week inside the Capitol, it was anything but inside the beltway, where pundits, scribes and talk-show hosts of all stripes attempted to make sense — or, in some cases, hay — out of the issues that were heightened by the shooting.
Gun control seems to be a non-starter. Very good arguments are being made about the necessity of handgun magazines that hold 30 rounds. But the nation in general and politicians in particular are simply not entertaining those arguments. Perhaps we’d be better off if more lawmakers followed the lead of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and became strict constructionists — believers that the Constitution’s meaning hasn’t changed since it was written. Then the Second Amendment right to bear arms would be limited largely to muskets.
Heated political rhetoric, as an issue, provides just that: Heat. And very little light. Such rhetoric is more pointed and pervasive these days, just as high school bullying is more pointed and pervasive, and for much the same reason: the media, social and otherwise. Messages, good and bad alike, reach far more people with far greater weight when illustrated on a website, disseminated through e-mail or highlighted on cable TV or radio. To suggest they may have motivated the shooter, however, seems difficult to prove. We live in a more callous and provocative society than a generation ago. Violent outbursts, unfortunately, have been a constant.
To the extent that the Tucson shooting gives anyone who engages in public discourse pause, provokes them to think twice about their message as well as its delivery or adds a measure of civility to not only political rhetoric but to all social interactions, then perhaps that is the lesson to be taken from this sad episode.
However, there must be less heart-wrenching ways to learn such lessons.
Messenger managing editor Kevin Frisch’s column appears each Sunday in the Daily Messenger. Contact him at (585) 394-0770, ext. 257, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.