Saturday’s atrocious attack on Representative Giffords and those who had gathered to meet with her is an attack on all of us and especially on our representative government. Even if the perpetrator of this tragedy turns out to have had no direct connection to or influence from the extreme corners of the political landscape, Congress and the president must not permit the significance of this deeply disturbing incident to be eviscerated by predictable political rhetoric and ratings-driven tabloid media. Our substitution of sound bites and hyperbolic media for substantive discourse turns almost everything into ephemera; events that are emblematic of serious issues quickly succumb to the next new round of sound bites and shouting while most of us just as quickly return to business as usual.
It was not long after the incident in Tucson that many who are closely associated with incendiary political rhetoric correctly began to point out that there are extremes on both sides of the political spectrum. However, they did not say that it is the nature and behavior of today’s extremes not their mere existence that needs to be put into perspective and on the table for discussion.
The extreme political right has viciously demonized government for the past thirty years; it has kowtowed to the gun lobby even though one of its patron saints, Ronald Reagan, was gunned down and nearly killed; and it has created, with the mainstream right’s implicit and explicit support, a forum for inflammatory intolerance, innuendo, outright mendacity and the encouragement of vigilantism. Meanwhile, the extreme political left seems to have devoted most of its energy to formulating and advocating the ideas and policies without which their counterparts on the right would cease to exist. Perhaps this confirms Einstein’s observation, “Great ideas often receive violent opposition from mediocre minds”.