When a congresswoman is shot in the head in the very act of democracy, we should all pause. This is fundamentally not a partisan issue and should not be. Acts of violence against political figures destroy democracy itself, for both parties. We don't know who tried to kill congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (she appears to be still alive) and we should be very cautious in drawing any conclusions yet about why. But we can know that, whoever tried to kill her and for whatever reason, political rhetoric involving words like "target" and "gun-sights" is inherently irresponsible.
For a public figure who has appeared on a national ticket and who commands a cult-like following, the irresponsibility is even more profound. And so one reads the following sentences from the Arizona Wildcat last September with the blood draining from one's face:
Palin Reloads; Aims For Giffords
Earlier this year, Palin drew sharp criticism for featuring a map on her web page riddled with crosshairs targeting Democrats in vulnerable congressional districts. Tucson's Gabrielle Giffords is among the 20 Democratic incumbents whom Palin intends to use for target practice.
Giffords was one of twenty members of Congress placed within metaphorical "gun-sights" in SarahPac's graphic. That is not the same thing as placing a gun-sight over someone's face or person. No one can possibly believe - or should - that Sarah Palin is anything but horrified by what has taken place. But it remains the kind of rhetorical excess which was warned about at the time, and which loners can use to dreadful purposes. It is compounded by the kind of language used by the Arizona Wildcat as well. Maybe "Palin Reloads; Aims For Giffords" is good copy as a headline. But next time, an editor should surely pause before enabling forces whose capacity for violence is real.