My favorite angry email from eight years as a columnist is one that accused me of “using the American way of Life to destroy the American Way of Life and the Rest of Western Civilization in the process.” It gave me a buzz to think anyone imagined I had the power to destroy Western Civilization (ZOMG!!) with a 700-word column published in a few Connecticut newspapers.
But it reminded me that words have power and must be used responsibly, especially by those with a public platform.
When I heard about the horrific shootings in Arizona on Saturday I was shocked, deeply saddened, and incredibly angry.
It’s clear that the shooter in this case, Jared Lee Loughner, is a deeply disturbed individual. Anyone who could intentionally shoot innocent people in cold blood must be.
I’ve written about the disturbing political rhetoric over the last two years. It had frightened me to the point that at a meeting on the Thursday before the shootings in Tucson, I’d half jokingly remarked to someone that I was considering firearms training myself. This is from someone who’s had the occasional go at target shooting, but believes in gun control and strict background checks. After living in the U.K. at the time of the 1997 Dunblane massacre when sixteen 5-year old children and their teacher were murdered at a school in Scotland, it still amazes me how the reaction of the British public – overwhelming calls for stronger gun control laws — contrasts with the sickening spike in Glock sales here.
Spare me the “guns don’t kill people, people do,” drivel, and look at the cold, hard facts: comparable countries with tighter gun-control laws have lower murder rates. The gun homicide rate per 100,000 for the U.S. is 5.28. For Canada, it is 0.47, for Australia it is 0.07, the U.K. 0.06, and Japan 0.05. Yet the solution from the right is to call for more guns. Heck, former Connecticut Attorney General candidate Martha Dean suggested gun training in schools! To say that more guns equals more safety ignores the facts, something we cannot and should not do for the sake of political expediency. No one “needs” an extended magazine, outside of the military and law enforcement, no way, no how.
But back to the other “weapon”: words. Part of the anger I felt last Saturday was because although shocked and saddened, I wasn’t at all surprised. I’ve been afraid that something like this would happen, because of the corrosive political atmosphere.
When the Secret Service tells you that your rhetoric has caused an increase in death threats against a presidential candidate you’d think it might cause you to take a pause for reflection. But not Sarah Palin. She doesn’t retreat – she reloads. And puts bulls-eyes (oh sorry, “surveyor marks” on the districts of political opponents, a potentially inflammatory act that was criticized by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords herself.
There’s no evidence yet that Jared Lee Loughner was influenced by anyone other than his own delusions. However, in a recent incident in the U.K., where an irresponsible socialite was twittering about “Managed Anorexia”, a former columnist who was a recovered anorexic wrote: “Any rational person knows not to take any notice… but when you have a mental illness like anorexia, you cannot necessarily be rational about things that might justify your illness… You can’t see how sick you are…You have lost control…By exercising his “liberty” to say whatever he likes, he risks infringing the liberties of others who read his words – those with a mental illness who have no control over the effect his words might have on their minds.”
This should be been a I’m starting with the Man in the Mirror moment, for everyone in this country. I know it has been for me. President Obama’s speech was pitch perfect, focusing on the victims, and calling for unity, introspection, and kindness.
It was a stark contrast to the video statement released by Palin earlier in the day. One wonders if Palin is completely tone deaf or if she took advice from her email buddy Glenn Beck and tried to be deliberately provocative by invoking “the blood libel”. For anyone unfamiliar, it’s a heavily loaded term referring to the accusations that Jews killed Christian children to use their blood in the manufacturing of matzoh for the Passover seder. The blood libel has been used as the basis for the murder of Jews for centuries. It persists to this day, in certain parts of the world. For Palin to claim it in relationship to her own “victimhood” particularly after the assassination attempt on a Jewish congresswoman, boggles the mind.
The contrast between her statement and President Obama’s speech could not have been starker. I might not always agree with Obama, but he was a leader in our nation’s dark hour. Palin, at a time when she could have showed leadership, proved that she’ll never be anything but a self-aggrandizing rabble rouser.