Saturday, January 08, 2011

Putting democracy in the cross hairs

I roused from a late afternoon rest to see Twitter declaring the Rep Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona had been assassinated. Then I saw that maybe she wasn't dead. But quite a few other people were. Tragic. Absolutely tragic on so many levels. It need almost go without saying that murder is horrible. And mass murder is vile. But there's something particularly tragic about the slaying of people who were participating in our democracy - as representatives, as aides, as supporters and I dare say as dissenters. Without a doubt among those killed and injured will be someone who disagreed with the politics of Representative Giffords and was there to let her know. To spray bullets on such a gathering is an attack on orderly, peaceful representative democracy. To kill the chance of ordinary people getting close to their representatives. I hope that everyone injured in today's shooting recovers quickly.

But what I also saw on Twitter was quick condemnation of Sarah Palin and rhetoric which borrows heavily from text of Guns n' Ammo. Yep, Ms Palin is certainly one to rouse emotions. I'm not a fan of her approach generally and I disagree with her on pretty much every political stand she takes. But she didn't pull the trigger. Yes, apparently she put Rep Giffords in the cross hairs on her website. In retrospect, it seems more than inappropriate. But a target seat is still a target seat. Everyone uses language like that. Everyone talks about picking off vulnerable opponents and some talk of political hit lists. I don't know how common cross-hairs are for political maps, but I wouldn't be surprised to see flames and bulls-eyes. Maybe we need a slightly different discourse. And we mustn't tolerate anything which goes further than this.

It takes a nut job to actually carry even extreme rhetoric to action. But sadly there's no lack of people who are willing to step up to the plate. From the recent assassination in Pakistan, to the stabbing of Stephen Timms. Call for violent action loud enough and often enough, even in the guise of metaphor, and someone will hear the call.

For sure, politics is a rough sport. And I wouldn't for a second wish to curtail freedom of speech. But surely we can all do more to counter aggressive, violent speech. To shun it. To repudiate it. To not tolerate or cosset it. No matter whom it's targeted against, as it lowers the tone for all of us. And that includes harsh responses, labelling Sarah Palin a murderer and demanding retribution.

And a similar post from a local politician I've met.

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