Let us be very clear. No one is directly responsible for the murderous rampage this weekend of mentally unstable Jared Loughner but Loughner himself.
We have yet to learn what motivated this killer to shoot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords through the head and then spray rounds of deadly bullets into a crowd of her political supporters, leaving six dead and 14 wounded. He, and he alone, is responsible and culpable for his actions.
But, that is not the point of the public debate that has risen from this tragic crime.
Bullets kill. Words kill, too.
And, each of us, alone, is responsible and culpable for the words we use.
Our political debate, of late, has been filled with violent words. Campaign slogans that tell voters to "reload" are unconscionable. Political ads that use imagery that literally puts opponents in the "cross-hairs" of a gun are intolerable. Appeals to the electorate to consider "second-amendment remedies" against politicians they disagree with in Washington are irresponsible. These incitements, just noted, came from candidates who seek the power to lead this amazing country.
No, these words did not kill a judge, a congressional aide, a little girl, an elderly man and two elderly women in Arizona. But, they have wounded the heart and soul of America.
We cherish our First Amendment. And I would defend the right to mouth the most hateful of speech. (Hate is always best countered with truth and justice, not censorship.) But, those who espouse violence bear responsibility and culpability for the violent acts committed by those they have aroused.
This past campaign season saw the rise of the Tea Party. We witnessed public rallies where members came with signs reading "We came unarmed, this time." Or, "Support the economy, buy ammo.".
Some politicians on the Right and their media mouthpieces, Fox News and Conservative Talk Radio have played to the fears of these people. They have stoked their anger by falsely and cynically demonizing the very institutions that we rely on to maintain the public good and trust - government and the media. They have made anyone who disagrees with them "the enemy." And, in any language or culture, the enemy, of course, is to be hunted and killed.
What has been described, meekly by the press, as "overheated rhetoric" is more heinous than that. It is deceitful, deliberate and dangerous. We live in unkind times. I can tolerate the slimy, dirty language of politics which pollsters seem to believe brings electoral victories. I can not, and will not, tolerate calls to violent actions, no matter how carefully couched by media manipulators.
The Right is busy today (purposely) missing the point. They are repeating that the toxic rhetoric of the nation is not connected to the Arizona shooting. That is absolutely correct. Not directly. But, it is a deceit to suggest that intentionally inciteful words have not bred hatred, a deterioration of honest debate and a demonization of "the other."
I will neither accept the tepid response that we just need to bring more civility to our politics. Those that have used extreme language to rally political action and wrest power have to take responsibility and culpability for their words and the actions they have wrought. Period.
Every political leader and pundit today should take a look at their own words, examine their own responsibility and culpability and own up to the potential destructive power of their language.
Yes, we have always been a violent nation. We were born of revolution against a tyrannical king and committed genocide on the Indian Nation. We fought each other in a bloody civil war over our evil embrace of slavery. We endured the assassinations of Martin, John, Malcolm, Bobby. Can we never be better than that? Yes, we can. And, yes, we will.
The truth is the truth. Bullets kill. Words kill, too.
(I wrote the song below, "Better Look Both Ways", during the 2010 election season when I was worried and frightened by the angry mob mentality of the Tea Party. The performance at Egan's Ballard Jam House is from Saturday, January 8th, the night of the assassination attempt on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. I always start my shows with this song. This night it rang too true.)