I’ve made it pretty clear in posts on GatorUptown.com that I am not a fan of Sarah Palin. But the shocking attack over the weekend on a political event has led many to blame Sarah Palin for potentially inciting the crazed gunman, with a website that listed several congressional districts (including the one represented by Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords) in literal “crosshairs” as a metaphor for targeted get-out-the-vote efforts to remove her from office in the November election.
A little surprising that I find myself defending Sarah Palin, but I will say with a fair amount of caution and trepidation that I believe many of my more liberal friends are taking their accusations too far.
First, let’s level-set. 22 year-old Jared Loughner has been charged with the attack, having allegedly fired a semi-automatic Glock pistol directly into the congresswoman’s head. He then continued firing indiscriminately into the crowd, killing several other people (including a federal judge, a key member of Rep. Giffords’s staff, and a nine year-old girl) and wounding many more.
It’s an absolutely terrible event, the result of a deranged lunatic full of anti-government conspiracy theories and the like, and I’m appalled. Whatever you think about a public figure’s political views, unless they are directly advocating for the deliberate pain and suffering of other people, the solution is to challenge their ideas or ultimately elect someone else instead. Shooting them and a crowd of innocent bystanders is not the answer. Period.
Having said all of that… Many people are linking the attack with a website that Sarah Palin’s team put up for the November election, which was identifying 20 Democratic representatives from conservative districts who voted for the health care reform last year. Here’s the image that has people, including me, so upset:
This is where my cautious defense comes into play… Is that image, with actual FIREARM CROSSHAIRS, inappropriate? Of course it is — it’s appalling that a highly-visible public figure (even if no longer a public official in an actual elected role) like Sarah Palin would use a violent image like this. It shouldn’t have been put up in the first place, and I’m glad that it’s finally been taken down. She’s in a lot of political hot water after the shooting, and I think she absolutely deserves it.
But do I think that Mrs. Palin is responsible for Mr. Loughner’s actions? No, I think that’s an irresponsible stretch. I don’t like Mrs. Palin’s politics, and frankly from what I’ve seen and read of her, I don’t know that she’s someone I would like outside of political considerations either. But I’m not going to let me views of her cloud my rational judgment.
We don’t know whether Mr. Loughner ever saw her website or not. If he did, we don’t know whether that had anything to do with his decision to go after the congresswoman and her crowd. (We do know that he’s had gripes about her for a couple of years now, from emerging news stories on the subject.) Simply put, we have no way of knowing whether he would have taken these actions regardless of Mrs. Palin’s “Take Back the 20” campaign.
At horrifying times like these, it’s natural to want to blame someone. It’s even more natural to extend that blame to people with whom we already have issues or concerns. But we really just don’t know if the website in any way contributed to the terrible acts that occurred this weekend. We just don’t.
On the other hand, I completely agree that the political rhetoric in common parlance today is getting too heated. The language we use has become increasingly violent in its wording, and for someone as imbalanced as Jared Lee Loughner appears to be, that kind of talk may very well have planted angry seeds in his deranged mind.
It needs to stop — we need to collectively strive for a political landscape where not everything must be viewed in terms of attacks and conquests, where having different political opinions doesn’t make someone an “enemy” that must be “attacked” at all costs, and where we can find common ground in some areas and civilly disagree on others.
And yes, that includes avoiding images that have phrases such as “IT’S TIME TO TAKE A STAND” paired with weapon crosshairs over representatives’ districts and a list of their names, and with phrases such as “first salvo in the fight” to emphasize the combative metaphor. It’s irresponsible, distasteful, and inflammatory. It may have had an impact in this situation, or it may not have, but either way, it’s the sort of angry messaging that we need to stop.
We need to stop the hate. And that includes not allowing our views on Mrs. Palin to make us give her too much credit for the actions of a lunatic in what may be a terrible coincidence.