An odd thing seems to be happening on the Sunday news shows today.
People are talking in sane, measured tones. They’re saying we need to tone down the political fire and brimstone. They’re saying we need to behave with more civility. They’re saying words matter. How we say them matters.
Saturday’s bloodbath in Tucson, Ariz., at the hands of an apparently “unhinged” maniac with a gun has caused outrage and anger. But something else is happening too: a call for sanity.
So it seems the nut job was targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, who was conducting a public forum at a Tucson supermarket. He shot her in the head, apparently at point-blank range. Somehow, she has survived.
A 9-year-old girl, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001, was an innocent bystander. Shot to death. A judge, a friend of Giffords, was shot dead. Six are dead in all. Twenty wounded in all. The cops knew who this nut job was. He has grown increasingly “unhinged,” as several pundits have described the gunman. A classmate described him as an “emotional cripple.”
A lot of people believe that the overheated rhetoric of recent years influenced this unbalanced individual. Sane people can shrug off inflammatory language and see it for what it is. Insane people sometimes do not. They take Sarah Palin’s “crosshairs” ad targeting people and/or districts literally. They work themselves into frenzied rages over “issues” like immigration, big guvmint, etc., until somebody goes off.
And now we’re saying: Enough.
Finally people who make outrageous statements are being held accountable. Finally, ridiculous hyperbole is getting its due criticism.
Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater is not protected free speech. Inciting violence is not protected free speech. The right to peaceably assemble is protected free speech. There is a big difference.
People like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck know exactly what they’re doing. Sarah Palin? I wonder. But words have consequences. And the people who say inflammatory things need to be held responsible for acting irresponsibly.
I am as ardent a supporter of the First Amendment as anyone can be. But there are limits. And to the loudmouth knuckleheads who incite violent, antisocial behavior, I have one thing to say: Shut up, already.