In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson on Saturday, there has been a lot of talk about the influence of heated—and at times, violent—political rhetoric, which has seemingly escalated in recent years. Sarah Palin has gotten plenty of attention for her midterms target map (replete with bulls-eyes) of congressional districts, Arizona’s Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was critically injured in the shooting. But it’s worth noting some of the other examples of extreme rhetoric—notably Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann calling on constituents to get “armed and dangerous” over the climate bill.
Here’s Bachmann in a 2009 radio interview, talking about the cap and trade bill that was under debate in the House at that time:
I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people—we the people—are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.
Now, it’s important to note that the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, certainly appears to be suffering from mental illness and that his political ideology, if he even has one, is not really clear at this point. (See Mother Jones‘ exclusive interview with one of his close friends for more.) He—or any other twisted individual—could have well committed a heinous act like this without elected officials fanning the flames. But it’s also certainly true that statements like Bachmann’s haven’t really helped create a positive discourse in this country on key policy issues—in this case, climate change.
It’s not just Republicans though (though I would certainly note that we’ve seen much more of this the right in recent years). Remember West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s campaign ad that featured him gunning down—literally—the cap and trade bill? Ken Ward has a thoughtful post on the need to back off the violent rhetoric on coal issues in particular, highlighting the Manchin ad.
Given that it’s well known that there are paranoid, dangerous, and fragile individuals among us, the insinuation that violence against the government is a meritorious pursuit is irresponsible. There are serious debates to be had about policy, but those don’t involve guns.