Tucson Tragedy: Time To “Tone It Down”?

Hard for me to move off this story right now: The attempted assassination of a member of Congress, the murder and wounding  of some innocent bystanders, the heroism of others, and a really sick individual who wins if we let his actions reduce our freedoms.

And I’m not convinced that political rhetoric — by those on the right or left — leads to violence. Although there is plenty of debate on that point. Does hateful or in-your-face speech contribute to a decline in the civility necessary to govern or to conduct our daily lives in most other areas? Yes. Does it cause a sorry fuck with a weapon of mass destruction to open fire in a parking lot on a Saturday morning? Not sure.

And c’mon. The photo released yesterday of the shooting suspect, Jared Loughner, makes him look like someone who would stick his dick into an electric pencil sharpener just for the buzz. So who know?

Yet while we are sorting this all out, maybe Roger Ailes is right. Let’s “tone it down.” Here’s from an article on Mediaite, “Fox News CEO Roger Ailes: I’ve Told All Our Guys, Shut Up, Tone It Down“:

Fox News CEO Roger Ailes says he put the word out at Fox to “tone it down” and make arguments “intellectually” with less heated rhetoric. “You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.”

But Ailes draws the line at any suggestion the passion of Fox News hosts had anything to do with the shooting spree in Arizona that left six dead and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded: “That is just bullsh–,” he told Russell Simmons in an interview posted to the music mogul’s website Global Grind. “Both sides are wrong,” said Ailes:

“They knew about this guy (Jared Lee Loughner). The education system knew about this guy…they kicked him out of school and told him until he gets a letter saying he’s not going to kill anybody, he can’t come back to school. The police department picked him up five times and let him go and nobody screened him for getting a weapon…So, by the time he decided to go to a mall and and wanting to kill somebody, he was attached to nobody. He was a flag burner. He just was not attached to the Tea Party.
It’s just a bullsh– way to use the death of a little girl to get Fox News in an argument.”

We’re never going to end disagreements in this country about significant legislative, policy or social issues. Nor should we. Open, vigorous debate is a hallmark of our free society — and it’s part of our heritage. And part of that is the ability to talk to our elected officials — and have access to them.

Yet it’s time to “tone it down.”

Here’s from an article on NPR by Corey Dade, “Shooting Fallout: Political Rhetoric Takes The Heat“:

“Hopefully this gives the nation pause, and we can temper down the vitriol toward politicians,” Rep. John Larson (D-CT) told reporters outside his home Saturday night. In a news conference Sunday, Larson said Democratic and Republican lawmakers this week will discuss taking new safety precautions, such as requesting a local police presence when they make official appearances in their districts.

In the Senate last year, the number of significant threats directed at members increased to 49 from 29 in 2009, according to the chamber’s sergeant-at-arms.

An April 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center found “a perfect storm of conditions” contributing to Americans’ distrust of government, including “a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

President Obama is heading to Arizona Wednesday for a memorial service, and what he says and does is important — and not just symbolically. As Mara Liasson writes on NPR — “Consoler-In-Chief: Tough Role In Partisan Times” — “many Americans look to the president for reassurance in times of tragedy.”

Many Americans look to the president for reassurance in times of tragedy. At these times, he is the “consoler in chief.” Ronald Reagan, for example, performed this role beautifully in his speech honoring the astronauts who died when the space shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986.

“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye, and slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God,” he said.

George W. Bush had an impromptu but affective moment as he shouted through a bullhorn on top of a pile of rubble at the World Trade Center site in September 2001: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

President George W. Bush speaks to rescue workers, firefighters and police officers from the rubble of Ground Zero on Sept. 14, 2001, in New York City.
Getty Images 

President George W. Bush speaks to rescue workers, firefighters and police officers from the rubble of Ground Zero on Sept. 14, 2001, in New York City.

Reagan spoke after a terrible accident; Bush after coordinated terrorist attacks. But in 1995, President Bill Clinton faced a situation more similar to the one Obama faces today: an attack on federal employees at the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City.

“Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear,” he said at the memorial service for the Oklahoma City bombing victims. “When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it. When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.”

We’ll see what happens in the days and months that follow.

But we need to “tone it down.”

And with all that has been said — and all the finger pointing — in the last few days following the shootings, I’m struck with one story. It’s an interview I saw on CNN and elsewhere with the the parents of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the young girl born on 9/11 and killed outside a Safeway store while trying to learn more about our government by meeting her representative.

[Interview is on CNN — go to Most Popular — “Parents Remember Shooting Victim.”]

For the families of those who were killed and wounded — and for the many others who are struggling to figure out how and why this happened without looking for political gain or benefit — let’s tone it down.

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4 responses to “Tucson Tragedy: Time To “Tone It Down”?

  1. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post. I couldn’t agree more, and you said it perfectly – let’s tone it down.

  2. Reasonable gun control would help–along with saying NO to NRA when it puts forth ridiculous, anti-safety proposals. Sad to say we’re warmongers

  3. Scurrilous rhetoric is hardly new, here or elsewhere. So what is new? The relentless, in-your-face nature of electronic media. On the beach, the toilet, the subway, freeway, pool deck–there they are, talking heads and dramatic streaming video. That’s what’s new. In the past, you had to be present to hear the overheated rhetoric, or you read it. Not no more. Combine the power of electrons with the ability to tune in to only those talking heads and images that conform to your prejudices, and welcome to where we are.

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