Arizona shooting reverberates in Congress. Can it change the culture?
In the halls of Congress, the Arizona shooting has prompted calls to tone down violent rhetoric. But it will take more than reformed lawmakers to change politics' tough-talking culture.
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“Unfortunately, it’s good politics in this day and age,” Brady said via a spokesman Monday. “It’s hard to end practices that work at the ballot box.”Skip to next paragraph
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Journalists, too, are caught up in the “showdown,” “targeting,” “taking aim” rhetoric now deemed offensive. The National Journal cover story for Jan. 8 features the subhead: “John Boehner’s troops are spoiling for a fight, but the speaker wants to aim before he shoots.”
The Rev. Rob Schenk, president of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, says that fundraisers, too, share responsibility for a pernicious political culture. “The typical fundraising letter says that if you don’t do this, they will take over, as in your grandchildren will be taught by homosexuals in their classroom,” he says.
“This kind of hyperbolic, alarmist, incendiary language is driven by the numbers,” he adds. “The fundraisers know if they can induce fear and anger, those are the two most effective motivators for people to go out of their way and cut a check.”
“I must admit a certain guilt myself, because up until very recently I cooperated with this type of fundraising and now I’m beginning to see how damaging it was to people,” he says.
Just three days into the investigation of the Tucson shooting, it’s not clear what motivated the suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. His favorite books, as noted on his YouTube profile page, range from “Mein Kampf” and “The Communist Manifesto” to “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Aesop’s Fables,” and “Peter Pan.” Internet comments attributed to him are disoriented and rambling.
Prima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik repeated Monday his assertion that that the toxic climate of political speech may have been a factor in the shootings. “The vitriol affects the [unbalanced] personality that we are talking about,” he said. “You can say, ‘Oh no, it doesn’t,’ but my opinion is that it does.”
Mark Pitcavage, a historian with the Anti-Defamation League, urges caution in jumping to conclusions in this case. “There has been an increase in violent rhetoric, but it’s not clear this incident was a manifestation of that,” he says.
But he adds that toning down the rhetoric is a good thing and can reduce the incidence of future attacks. “If this gets people to catch their breath and make an attempt to get back to a more civil society, society can only benefit,” he says.