Inflamed Rhetoric Is Good

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There's been an uptick in calls for less inflamed political speech following the tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona this weekend. Newspapers and politicians in Arizona and across the country have been calling on leaders to quell the level of "invective" dominating our political discourse. Some are criticizing Sarah Palin for her message "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD" given last year to supporters alongside a crosshair-laden map targeting Democratic congressional districts. However, Jack Shafer at Slate has a different message for the country: Inflamed rhetoric isn't what's wrong with America, it's what's right.

For as long as I've been alive, crosshairs and bull's-eyes have been an accepted part of the graphical lexicon when it comes to political debates. Such "inflammatory" words as targeting, attacking, destroying, blasting, crushing, burying, knee-capping, and others have similarly guided political thought and action. Not once have the use of these images or words tempted me or anybody else I know to kill. I've listened to, read—and even written!—vicious attacks on government without reaching for my gun. I've even gotten angry, for goodness' sake, without coming close to assassinating a politician or a judge...

The great miracle of American politics is that although it can tend toward the cutthroat and thuggish, it is almost devoid of genuine violence outside of a few scuffles and busted lips now and again. With the exception of Saturday's slaughter, I'd wager that in the last 30 years there have been more acts of physical violence in the stands at Philadelphia Eagles home games than in American politics...

Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I'll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.