Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's use of gun-imagery like rifle cross-hairs to target politically vulnerable Democratic lawmakers won't surprise many Americans as she stumps for her former running mate, John McCain, this weekend.
Tales of Ms. Palin's moose-hunting exploits and all-around frontier mentality are legend following her vice presidential run, her bestseller, and subsequent "tea party" politicking across the US.
But while it's clear that "nerves are raw" across the US following a contentious and partisan healthcare vote last weekend, Palin helped to harden the tenor as she played on the mythology of the gun in American culture to fire "the first salvo in a fight to elect people across the nation who will bring common sense to Washington," as she wrote on Facebook.
Critics saw Palin's missive as fueling already disturbing threats (including real bricks thrown through real windows), all of which caused some House members to ask for extra protection last week.
On the stump Friday, Palin and McCain called for "a peaceful revolution," but Palin did not offer to take down the gun imagery.
In part, Palin's button-pushing is a bold test of revolutionary rhetoric at a time when many Americans – including 14 state attorneys general (all but one are Republicans) – feel Democrats subverted the Constitution to pass a potentially costly entitlement plan.
Up against Palin's rifle sights, can liberals raise enough of a stink about the threat of extreme rhetoric to marginalize passionate rightwing discourse, which could at least partially deflate the tea party movement? Or will demonizing hot-heated, but ultimately nonviolent protesters literally backfire at the voting booth?
First and foremost, many academic experts are concerned that violent imagery from the right's leaders could inspire violence against lawmakers and even civil servants.
"I think [Palin and other conservative leaders] have a very, very serious responsibility to measure their words carefully," Tony Stewart, who has worked to free Idaho of its reputation as a magnet for white supremacists, told McClatchy.
The liberal media watchdog group MediaMatters has tracked what they call a disturbing trend of talking heads and politicians ratcheting up the rhetoric, pointing to Glenn Beck's portrayal of the Obama administration as vampires and referencing Rep. Michelle Bachmann's call for an "orderly revolution" on Sean Hannity's show two days ago.
Meanwhile, conservative web sites are compiling lists of liberals urging violence, as well.
Instapundit has several times pointed to a column by the Washington Post's Courtland Milloy where he urges readers to address tea partiers by "[knocking] every racist and homophobic tooth out of their Cro-Magnon heads."
Indeed, if many are calling Palin and her cohort divisive and even downright dangerous, others blame the Democrats for putting the first stake in the sandbox.
"I sincerely pray that we are not on the cusp of some group of angry and now unhinged mob lashing out at congressmen …," writes conservative blogger Erick Erickson at RedState.com. "But … I don't think the Democrats should at all be surprised. They were and they knew they were playing with fire to advance legislation many Americans see as the undoing of the American Experiment."
Lining up for that battle, Sarah Palin has so far held her rhetorical rifle high over her head.