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Rhetoric and Polarization In Our Society

In the aftermath of the tragedy of Saturday’s shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murders that took the lives of, among others, a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl we need to take a good hard look at where we are as a society.  The polarization of issues and the rhetoric that is used by both sides has reached a breaking point.  We are no longer able to have well thought out and civil discussions of issues without devolving into “Who can yell the loudest” matches and questioning someones Patriotism. 

In a sad twist of fate Rep. Giffords spoke to this very topic last March.   Giffords pointed to and predicted  the things being said now and spoke out against the vitriolic language and imagery that was being used by politicians and the media.   ‘Our pride“, she said,” is that we effect change at the ballot box and not through outbursts of violence.”  Civil discourse and debate are the tools we use to express our ideas and effect change.  The days of bloody revolution are part of our past and have no place in a civilized society.

Following an incident in which the front door of her Tucson office was destroyed Giffords spoke out.  When asked if leaders of the Republican Party should speak out more forcefully against violence, she replied that this task fell as well to Democrats and “community leaders.” “Look, we can’t stand for this.  There were problems with certain ways of “firing people up,” she said, and then offered an example close to home. “We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” she said, “but the thing is that the way she has it depicted has the cross-hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that action.” When asked what she thought Palin’s intentions were Giffords responded,

You know, I can’t say, I’m not Sarah Palin.  But what I can say is that in the years that some of my colleagues have served — 20, 30 years – they’ve never seen it like this. We have to work out our problems by negotiating, working together, hopefully Democrats and Republicans.  I understand that this health care bill is incredibly personal,” she continued, “probably the most significant vote cast here for decades, frankly. But the reality is that we’ve got to focus on the policy, focus on the process, but leaders – community leaders, not just political leaders – have to stand back when things get too fired up and say, ‘Whoa, let’s take a step back here.  It is wrong, at any point on the spectrum incite people and inflame emotions.”  There are, she said, “polarized parts of our parties that really get excited and that’s where, again, community leaders, not just, you know, the political leaders, all of us have to come together and say, ‘OK, there’s a fine line here.‘ “

When facing this issue one must face the truth behind it.  The use of violent rhetoric is not a new phenomenon in the political world.  Both parties have a history of using language that incites the public in order to energize their base.  The left is not blameless here.  However over the past few years and election cycles the American far right has begun to use greater and greater extreme rhetoric in its attacks on anyone who disagrees with their views.  The messaging tactics, candidates, and media commentators that are being pushed forward and promoted have become so extreme as to border on violently revolutionary.

At what point did we reach the acceptance of  opponents of the president carrying guns to his speeches and citing Jefferson (out of context and misguidedly) that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  Sharron Angle spoke of “Second Amendment remedies” in discussing “domestic enemies” in reference to Harry Reid.

As stated this is not a problem isolated to one political view.  Both sides and all of those involved need to address this issue and violent talk cannot be part of our political routine.  Our leaders must take on the fringe elements of their parties and remove extremist views and rhetoric.

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