Tolerance, civility needed in wake of shootings

January 20, 2011

Six people are dead, 13 others wounded, and a bright, energetic congresswoman from Arizona remains hospitalized with a head wound she suffered in a senseless attack.

Daily reports suggest that U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., is making amazing progress for someone who had a bullet travel the length of her brain.

Charged with the killings and maimings in the Jan. 8 shooting at that Tucson shopping center is a man who appears to be mentally unstable.

Based on what we've read and what's been reported, 22-year-old Jared Loughner did not open fire because he was a die-hard follower of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party. They had nothing do with the shooting rampage earlier this month, despite rants from the likes of Gary Hart and Keith Olbermann.

Instead, the cause of the shooting was, apparently, the result of whatever was going on in the head of a man who had in the past exhibited bizarre behavior. Those who knew him say he wasn't a right winger or left winger. His condition appears to have been without a political bent.

From Columbine to Waco, acts of extreme brutality and savagery springing from mental illness, social distress and social dislocation are an unfortunate and far-too-frequent fact of American society today.

These senseless horrors leave most of us sad, disheartened, discouraged and emotionally spent.

And as a disgusting sideshow, we get a few days of the blame game. The talking heads make a grab for the headlines, the sound bites and the attention.

On the left, politicians and pundits like Hart and Olbermann — themselves inflaming the situation by talking nonsense — blame the attacks on the inflammatory rhetoric of the Becks and Palins of the world.

Beck and Palin, refusing to take the high road, fire back in kind, to the point they cast themselves as bigger victims than the people on the receiving end of Loughner's gunfire.

The fact that anyone would try to turn the Arizona tragedy into political capital is appalling, but perhaps not surprising, given the gutter level of political discourse in the country.

During times such as these, isn't a bit of quiet reflection in order?

Polls show that President Obama hasn't exactly earned a ringing endorsement from the American people for his first two years in office. But one thing the president did get right was his speech in Tucson last weekend at a memorial service for the victims.

His was a sorely needed message of tolerance and civility.

Even as we say only the gunman was responsible for the Tucson shooting, now still can be the time to engage in a dialogue about the way we do things. Let's not wait for divisive, vitriolic debate to lead to calamity.

It is time for light, not heat, to be shed by our politicians at all levels, as well as by TV pundits, strangers at the grocery store and on the street, and by this newspaper.  

Let's learn to talk to each other about the issues, not shout past each other. Let's respect our differences, agree to disagree.

Let's as a nation demand that politicians stop demonizing those on the other side, and force them to argue their points on the merits of the programs, not on personalities and sound bites.

Let's insist that they think about the good of the country, not the next election, that they work at being diplomats who can unite us, not name-calling attention seekers.

One of our columnists said the other day that to pull herself out of the post-holiday blues, she made it a point at least once each day to say something nice to someone, be it a family member, a friend or someone she sees while shopping.

What if all of us, including our elected officials, tried to follow her lead?

In the current political climate, that would be an act of extremism.

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