Polled Americans Say Conservative Rhetoric Didn't Cause Shooting

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The days since Saturday’s attack on Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords that left 6 dead have been filled with various attempts to explain the shooter’s motives. Politicians and pundits on the left have argued that violent conservative rhetoric is to blame, specifically criticizing Sarah Palin’s midterm election map which targeted 20 Democrats for defeat with the image of crosshairs. Gabrielle Giffords was one of the 20.

But a new CBS poll released today suggests the American public's views are rather different--"57 percent of respondents said the harsh political tone had nothing to do with the shooting, compared to 32 percent who felt it did," reports Daniel Carty. The majority of Republicans who responded to the poll felt that rhetoric was not responsible for the shooting, where as Democrats' opinions were split almost evenly.

The poll has sparked reactions, mostly from blogging opponents of the rhetoric argument who are now coming out in support of the American public.

  • Americans Are Smarter Than Politicians Think  Red State blogger Dan Spencer is pleased with the poll's results. He says they prove "the left-wing hate machine's efforts to blame the shooting on the right has failed to persuade Americas, who continue to show they are smarter than many political activists give them credit for being."
  • No Evidence of a Connection  David Weigel at Slate is surprised that such a large portion of the country, about one third, does feel rhetoric is to blame for the shooting, "despite evidence that it had nothing to do with it." Weigel seeks proof of such violent rhetoric and the results make him skeptical of the argument:
I did a search recently on how many bills have the word ‘killing’ in the title, like the ‘Repeal of the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.’ Almost no legislation in 20 years used the word. The only bill I found was a 2009 health care billfrom then-Rep. Alan Grayson. Am I implying that the title of the repeal bill contributed to some climate of violence? No--it’s just rhetoric that pols are going to shy away from again.
  • The Rhetoric Explanation is Just a Dramatization of the Real Story  At Reason, Nick Gillespie writes that he agrees with David Weigel and suggests that the push to blame conservative rhetoric for the attack is the result of peoples' desire for a more dramatic and complicated storyline. He explains:
From almost any perspective, it is extremely unsatisfying that a killer is motivated simply by mental illness. We want there to be a stronger, deeper, somehow more complicated explanation in cases such as these, both to to dispel lingering fears that chance and contingency dominate the cosmos and because, oddly enough, it helps elevate the suffering of the victims and survivors of monumental violence if they were somehow caught up in a grander plan, no matter how evil.
  • Harsh Words Will Still Be Fair Game Although The American Spectator's Phiilp Klein also agrees with Weigel about the lack of evidence for violent rhetoric's role in the attack, he questions the assertion that in the future politicians, particularly Republicans, will tone down their aggressive speech.
To the extent that there will be a moderation in tone--and I think this applies to both parties--it will more apply to the way lawmakers refer to each other or suggest anything that can suggest a call to violence (i.e., Democrats referring to Republicans as "terrorists" and "hostage takers" or Republicans calling Obama a socialist or talking about how we may be on the verge of a revolution). But I imagine harsh attacks on policies themselves will still be fair game, even in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
  • To End the Debate, Why Not End All Violent Speech?  While there is no evidence that vitriolic political speech pushed the shooter to attack Giffords and the others at gathered to hear her speak on Saturday, there is no proof that it did not, argues Michael Winship at In These Times. So, he proposes, "in the absence of evidence to support either side, why doesn't the right just volunteer to put an end to all the ballistic language and images it's been employing for many years now? Why not cease and desist if there's any doubt about the impact on lunatics of provocative, violence-saturated words and images?"

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