What the Arizona shootings have to teach us about the dangers of extreme political rhetoric
January 11, 2011 § 1 Comment
To watch, on the BBC News last night, President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama lead the United States in a minute’s silence in memory of the six people-including a six-year-old girl-who were victims of the Arizona shootings in Arizona on Saturday night, UK time.
Among the many others who were hurt, indeed very seriously hurt, was Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic member of the House of Representatives-the American version of the House of Commons.
She was meeting with her constituents at a local store when the attempted assassination happened.
A deeply harrowing occurence.
There has been much discussion, on both sides of the Atlantic, since then, on what kind of role the ever-increasingly right-wing rhetoric coming out of some of the States’s radio talk-show hosts and TV commentators might have had in influencing the young man alleged to have committed the act.
We may never know.
However, whatever the facts in this case, there is no doubt that political rhetoric can be both soaring and inspirational (see the speeches of the aforementioned Obama and, one of his predecessors, John F Kennedy) but it can also be used to spread and perpetuate hate.
Just look at some of the rhetoric of the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck…there’s a fine line between giving your point of view and, whether it is your intention or not, encouraging those on the extreme to take actions which are utterly unacceptable in pursuit of their political aims.
There’s a second concern here in that we’ve made our politics (more so in America, but it’s also a creeping trend here in the UK) much more personal than perhaps it used to be.
Some may have laughed when they heard that an effigy of Nick Clegg had been burned during the whole student fees row.
After the attack on Congresswoman Giffords, who would now argue that this kind of personal attack is anything other than utterly abhorrent?
And if you think, we’d never see an attack on an MP here, just remember the recent attack on Labour MP Stephen Timms (who was stabbed at one of his constituency surgeries.)
So, what to learn from this?
Well, though I’m sure it won’t happen any time soon, I do believe that America needs to look at its gun laws and needs to make them far more stringent.
All of us, politicians, activists, citizens, campaigners, need to always make sure that our language is moderate and that we treat each other with respect.
And, finally, we need to make our political debate about policies not personalities.
I hope Gabrielle Giffords makes a full recovery and can continue to represent her constituents.
Her shooting must give us all a very serious pause for thought.