We (or at least the great majority) of Americans were greatly saddened over the weekend by the senseless killings in Tucson Arizona. America's body politic has again been tested by our proclivity towards vitriol and violence. Following are some thoughts we would do well to consider:
1. We do not agree as a nation on a wide variety of issues. This is hardly new. States rights vs. Federalism, the role of religion, gun rights, foreign policy, and immigration will continue to be subjects of debate and hopefully compromise.
2. We seem to forget or overlook the value of government. I believe that the more recently expressed hatred for government is quite likely the result of a lack of understanding and consideration of both the proper role of government and the benefits resulting. With a democratic representative government we are responsible for the election of representatives who write and pass the laws. Complete rejection of the value of government is it seems a clear case of self-loathing if not just ignorance.
3. There seems to be a cycle of rhetoric which results in violent outbreaks. The effect of whoever shouts the loudest and makes the most extreme points has the result of gradually increasing the level of anger and feelings of isolation among those espousing the views. This has been exascerbated greatly by the freedom of the internet, but is fueled by leaders in our own government. A recent example has been the tenor of the Republican campaign against the Democratic opposition. Please consider for example Sarah Palin's use of a map with targets overlayed to demonstrate actions which she would have us take:
4. Our political leadership should take as much blame as the fringe groups. Personal attacks on the opposition whether from one party or the other, lead the electorate to believe that our Representatives, Senators, and administration are bad people with evil intent. This is made worse by the use of simplistic sound bites and marketing phrases used to increase the level and fear and anger rather than to inform the issue. A good example is the use of the expression "Death Panels" to describe end of life care provisions in the new health care law. If you hear this repeated enough times it soon becomes the definition of the issue, regardless of its lack of actual content or accuracy.
5. The expanded reach and freedom of the media has thrown more fuel on the fire. Fox News, MSNBC, and the blogosphere in general have contributed greatly to the lack of respect and personal attacks on leaders from both sides. I have been a long time reader of a local blog here in Portland. Jack Bog's Blog (www.bojack.org) has been an excellent source of information about state and local politics and economics. However, recently the quantity of personal attacks against everyone from the President to the Governor to the our Mayor have increased to the point where I decided to cease reading it. A good example was Jack's coining of the name Mayor Creepy to describe Sam Adams, the Mayor of Portland. I found that I was no better than Jack or many other readers when it came to heaping scorn and personal attacks on the Mayor. No, I don't agree with Sam Adams on a range of issues and culturally we are worlds apart, but is anything positive gained by the constantly increasing personal attacks? I don't think so.
6. It is time to reel in the anger and provide role models based on respect and civil discourse. Leadership will be required to accomplish this. I wonder if Jack Bog could go for a full week without using the expression Mayor Creepy, or describing our President in such negative terms. Would this have a positive effect on the tenor of the comments to his blog?
You can take personal action now by not giving in to the urge to "pile on". You can refrain from personal attacks on our elected officials and government workers. This does not mean you have to agree or condone all positions and actions. As a nation we can decide to work together for the best solutions to our problems or we can take the approach recently demonstrated in Tucson. It is up to you.