Conservatives are understandably indignant in insisting that Jared Loughner, the assailant in Saturday’s shooting involving Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and others in Tucson, Arizona, was a disturbed person who had no connection to them or their cause. Whatever sparked Loughner to open fire on Giffords and others at the Tucson Safeway may never be fully understood. And it should not provide a cheap opportunity to score political points against an opposing political philosophy.
But tragedy always forces reassessment about who we are and how we function as individuals and as a society. People of all political persuasions can learn some sobering lessons from this brutal and senseless episode, but conservatives need to be particularly thoughtful about the language, images, and messages some individuals who seek to lead their cause have been using over the past 18 months.
Are we likely to increase or decrease the likelihood of such incidents if we claim to be putting opposing politicians in the "crosshairs?" Are we improving political discourse when we attack political opponents at events that also offer an opportunity to fire automatic weapons?
The question the assault on Giffords raises is not whether it was directed or deliberately encouraged by any individual or organization in mainstream politics because it obviously was not. But it does force us to examine whether it was an isolated event disassociated with the current level of public discourse or whether that discourse is inflaming "weak and vicious minds," as former President Theodore Roosevelt put it.
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