When I first heard about the mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona, I was stunned and, frankly, affected more than I thought I would be. I live in the fourth poorest metropolitan area in the Nation, and, every night on the local news, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Sometimes those doing the “bleeding” are elderly, sometimes they are young; most times they are innocent.
During times of self-reflection (or self-absorption), I sometimes wonder what my purpose on this planet is, and I quietly hope that the Universe has something noble planned for me. Then I see and read reports about people that “were at the wrong place at the wrong time” whose lives were “cut tragically short.” Was that what the Universe had planned for them? Rather than go down this nihilistic rabbit hole further, I turn my cynical, leather collar over the gooseflesh raised by such cold thoughts, and continue on with my life.
People die all the time, I say to myself, and another furrow is permanently etched into my brow.
But the shootings in Tucson shook me deeper. It was a direct hit on any sense that I had of goodness, righteousness and justice.
Americans of every stripe ceaselessly congratulate themselves and each other for living in a democracy. We’re the greatest, we’re the best, we’re #1!
In truth, our political system is broken, polarized and partisan beyond any altruistic definition of the word “democracy.” It has become drama complete with protagonists and antagonists, it has become sport complete with my team and your team, and it has become war complete with enemies and allies.
In my opinion, this is done by the various media outlets in order to heighten the impact of their coverage. Let’s face it, the peaceful exchange and discussion of ideas followed by amicable compromise is not nearly as riveting as a “Beltway Bloodbath.”
It behooves politicians to follow suit. If they want coverage, they’d damn well better play ball. And so Congress becomes WWE. There are good guys, bad guys, taunts and threats.
But Congresswoman Giffords was doing it right. In her own small way, she was trying to turn the Washington Octagon back into the People’s House. In a climate of political middle fingers, Congresswoman Giffords was offering the peace sign. Hopefully, her recovery will be speedy and thorough. Sadly, for many of those drawn to her light, there will be no recovery.
Naturally, like a snake eating its own tail, the very same media began opining on “the rhetoric” and its role in the shooting, as if “the rhetoric” was somehow separate from those who broadcast it. The attempt to connect the dots immediately pointed to crosshairs on a map that you’ve surely seen by now.
Ironically, Sarah Palin’s map became itself the target for so much impotent rage. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t share some of that outrage, and in that outrage, I was blinded to what I later saw as the truth.
In keeping with the combative nature of our current discourse, this map had either everything to do with the shootings or absolutely nothing to do with the shootings. I would like to take a centrist cue from Congresswoman Giffords and say that, in my opinion, Sarah Palin’s “Take Back the 20” map had something to do with the shootings, not in the straight-line, causal way that is popularly espoused or refuted, but rather, something more abstract.
“Sarah Palin” is an archetypal character in the ongoing play written by our media. Her character is the folksy, rugged outdoorswoman, and it’s those attributes that she reflects, real or perceived, in her legion of fans. She’s a Mama Grizzly who can handle a rifle and lives by a different code; that of home-spun Prairie Justice. In reality, we know that she’s a multi-millionaire and not “Governor Palin, Medicine Woman,” but her role is crucial to the political passion play, and is a godsend (ratings-wise) to media on both the Left and the Right.
Her map was simply in keeping with that character; her idiom.
The difficulty in determining whether that particular form of expression was harmless or harmful arises because each of us are viewing it through our own prism. Personally, I think the map was in poor taste, and I held that opinion back in March of 2010 when it was first published. Can I separate the image of this map from a literal call to violence? Yes. Can you? Probably. We share that “normal” view.
But the mental nuance required to separate a metaphor from the literal is not shared by everyone; especially those with mental deficiencies or disease. Just like germs will more likely affect a compromised immune system, certain ideas will more likely affect those of a compromised mental state.
Does that mean we curtail our rights as Americans for fear that someone of the afore-mentioned mental state will misconstrue our free speech? Certainly not. But an awareness that our speech has, as Congresswoman Giffords put it, “consequences” is, again, in my opinion, as important as the freedom.
Were Jared Lee Loughner’s actions the fault of Sarah Palin or, for that matter, anyone aside from himself? No. For their parts, Mrs. Palin and her ilk are only being true to the roles in which they were cast. Should the political arena be the high-pitched circus that it is? That, I think, is the more pertinent question.
My initial shock and outrage, and the need to ascribe blame have given way to a different thought. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare wrote: “Within the infant rind of this weak flower/ Poison hath residence and medicine power…” I believe that within this tragedy is the answer to the question that all of us are asking: “How do we keep this from happening again?”
That is, if we chose to wield the “power” and not the “poison.”
I hope that this was a positive addition to the discourse. Thanks for reading.