Is the Tea Party to Blame for Gabrielle Gifford’s Shooting?
Does “the tea party” share responsibility for the murder of Gabrielle Gifford? No; the majority of its members are honest, sincere, people, concerned about family values, worried about their economic security and sometimes their physical safety, troubled by the direction government is going in and how it seems to be responding to bankers and hedge-fund managers more than to ordinary people. And they are normally peaceful, if often excitable, and usually in ways healthy for a vibrant democracy.
But there are leaders and backers of the tea party movement that do not fit this description. They are very well to do, and include millionaires and at least one billionaire. They include ambitious politicians hoping to get votes by playing on other people’s (not their own) insecurities. They are willing to use anti-immigrant prejudice and latent racism to whip up support for their own agenda, which has more to do with giving business free reign to make profits any way it can, keeping the million-dollar incomes and multi-million dollar estates of the very wealthy from any fair level of taxation, and in their own special interest appealing to the frustrations of those who listen to them to incite aggressive and unthinking reflex reactions in support of their selfish agendas.
The tea parties as such, and the large number of their supporters, I believe, cannot and should not be implicated in the killing of Gabrielle Gifford. Nor is it fair to accuse any of its leaders of personally wishing that Gabby Gifford be shot, or intentionally encouraging such action. But those leaders and self-proclaimed spokespersons for the tea party that proclaim the end of the American way of life if any of the programs of the “liberals” are enacted, who speak of their opponents as unAmerican and liars if not traitors, who cry out for the preservation of an endangered American way of life by, implicitly, any means necessary, who consistently use millennial language to make defeating a political position a matter of life or death, who call on their supporters to come to their rallies bearing arms, who see government as evil and hostile, that bear some responsibility for events like this abominable killing.
It is not a question of accusing anyone of wanting the Tucson shooting or inciting it. It is rather a question of asking those who have ratcheted up the discourse (and that is certainly a more one-sided than evenly-located group) to stop and reflect, to examine their own language, to attempt to assess the benefits and costs of their approach to political issues. Had they been preaching tolerance and the legitimacy of opposing points of view, it might not have prevented Jared Loughlin from killing someone, but might have made it less likely. And, in terms of who would get shot it is not a coincidence that Loughlin lived in Arizona, that he listened to over-blown rhetoric, that his environment was one of anger, hostility, fostering aggressive and hostile attitudes and behavior in matters of public discussion. The connection deserves reflection, introspection, perhaps some modesty and perhaps some changes in language and behavior. And of course in gun control legislation: Loughlin bought his bullet clip at Walmart!
It is time for the tea party to acknowledge that we still live in a great democracy, that our government is one elected by the people, even if by procedures that could bear improvement, and that the end of the world is not about to descend if this or that form of health care legislation is passed, if some people are allowed to marry who wouldn’t have asked it a hundred years ago, if there are real differences of opinion as to how the Constitution should be interpreted. Reasonable people can, and should, differ on all kinds of things in a democracy. Those leaders of the tea party that see an evil conspiracy behind any disagreement should be rejected by the honest tea party adherents. In an atmosphere of mutual respect and honest dialogue on matters of public importance, the shooting of Gabrielle Gifford would have been much less likely.