U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot at a grocery store during a constituent event in Tucson.
January 10, 2011

Tom Milton

A Great American Tragedy: Gabrielle Giffords the target

We live in a great country.  We have a stable government.  We have incredible wealth when compared to so many other parts of the world.  I don’t know about you, but I often take these things for granted.  When I go to bed at night, I don’t worry about enemy rebels overrunning my home.

I hear about other countries that are unstable, parliaments that have physical confrontations on the same floor where they establish laws, political systems where assassination is a political tool, and I assume that those things are third-world problems that we have gotten past.  Sure, the United States has a history of bloodshed that has built us into who we are as a nation, but the Civil War is over.  Federal politicians no longer have duels with pistols.  Although there have been unsuccessful attempts, we haven’t had a president assassinated in nearly 50 years.

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot at a grocery store during a constituent event in Tucson.  It is a stark reminder that there is evil in the world and that we are still susceptible to the worst when it comes to political dissension.

There are two things about our modern American society that scare me when it comes to politics.

The first is that we now live in a “for-profit” 24-hour news cycle.  Gone are the days of news only at 6 and 10 p.m.  Multiple networks and websites focus on reporting news, and they compete for ratings.  Ratings mean sponsors, and sponsors mean money.  People turn on the news in the morning and listen to it all day.  Our web-browsers usually always have some type of news displayed and updated.  What does it take to get them tuned in to our network or hitting our website?  This leads back to the old news principle “if it bleeds, it leads.”  It is logical to understand the desire for hard-hitting news — not just fluffy, lighthearted pieces.  Politics — basically how we choose our leaders and govern our country — are brought to us mainly through these mediums.  It is not hard to become obsessed with politics living in the information era.

And that leads to the second thing that scares me.  We now see politics as entertainment. It isn’t just about having a great debate.  It is now about satire and anger.  Don’t think I am going to point a finger at republicans or democrats.  I am going to suggest it cuts both ways.  For example, the conservatives have brought us Rush Limbaugh, who for years has made fun of the left.  I have always struggled with the way he mispronounces names just to make fun of people like a schoolyard bully.  On the other hand, the liberals have brought us Al Franken –a current U.S. Senator — who wrote a book titled “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot.”  The great debate is no longer about exchanging ideas; it is about being right at the expense of opposing ideologies and trying to embarrass and humiliate the other guy.

Adding to the fact that American politics are overexposed and confrontational is that the general public as a whole places elected officials at the same place as used car salesmen on the integrity scale.  (No offense intended to used car salesmen.  I used to be an elected official so I am only relating a popular stigma.)

So is this what led to the shooting in Tucson of Rep. Giffords?  I don’t believe it is.  But I do believe it could have been the spark that touched off a mentally imbalanced man to do the unthinkable.  Gone are the days of statesmen who present arguments and value debate.  As a nation, we should fear extremism and angry rhetoric.  We should also understand that people are listening to what we say and some of them may not be able to understand right from wrong.

My heart goes out to Rep. Giffords, Judge Roll, the five others killed, those wounded, their families and all of those who were traumatized by this massacre.

We should always engage in political debate thinking about if the next Jared Lee Loughner (the shooter) is listening and wondering how our words are helping to influence him.