Sunday, January 09, 2011

Speak loudly, but don't carry a stick

Over the last 24 hours, the internet has been filled with opinion pieces regarding the Arizona murders. Such an event is a frustrating tragedy. In addition to loss of human life, the attack damages America's political process. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was duly elected by the voters in her district. Judge John Roll was duly appointed to the United States District Court. Their assassination or an attempt at such was an act that subverts our rule of law and our political system.

Predictably, in the wake of such evil, extremists have sought to place blame on incendiary political speech of those who disagree with them. I have seen Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, and Keith Olberman and Rachel Maddow invoked as creating an environment where extremists are rallied to violence. This blame is misplaced.

Political speech can be frustrating and ugly. Most with a political opinion dislike the ideas put forth by someone in the limelight. Yet political disagreement, even ugly mean-spirited disagreement is fundamental to America's way of life. It's been true since before the day when Thomas Jefferson called John Adams a hermaphrodite.

Speech that doesn't directly call to violence is as American as apple pie. Violent allusion is found in every political campaign with references as Howard Kurtz demonstrates:

Let's be honest: Journalists often use military terminology in describing campaigns. We talk about the air war, the bombshells, targeting politicians, knocking them off, candidates returning fire or being out of ammunition.

Today we should mourn the victims, gather the facts, and prepare to bring the perpetrator to justice. However, any attempt to silence political speech is a evil stepchild of the attempted violent overthrow perpetrated by the murderer.