The Shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the Language of Violence

Before the horrendous assassination attempt on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the shooting of 20 people, leaving six of them dead, Giffords knew that she had been specially marked by by her opponents. Tea Party conservatives wanted her out of office, even though she is a conservative Democrat, and weren't afraid to use thinly-veiled calls for violence against her to achieve their goal.

Her opponent in her 2010 Congressional race staged an event to "target" her by offering voters a chance to shoot an M16. Her Tucson office had been vandalized after her vote on the health care bill in March of last year, as had other Congressional offices. And Sarah Palin advocated for getting her out of office -- her PAC site posting a map of the country with a graphic of the cross-hairs of a gun-sight on each of the offices she wanted her chosen candidates to win, one of those being Giffords'. The Sarah Palin PAC site has taken down the map, but you can see it at her Facebook Fan Page. Spokespeople for Palin now are claiming that the marks on the map were not intended to be cross-hairs -- you be the judge. It would certainly be consistent with her continuing theme of calling on conservatives to "reload."

Palin certainly isn't the only extreme conservative who's felt that it's appropriate political gamesmanship to use slightly veiled language of violence to promote political agendas.

Former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle frequently remarked during her race against Harry Reid that if elections don't go the way people want, they can always resort to their "Second Amendment remedies," suggesting that revolution was possible. Conservative radio host Tammy Bruce prominently posts a photo on her site sitting at her microphone, casually holding a gun. Glenn Beck is forever invoking images of rivers of blood, calling for conservatives to drive a stake through the hearts of vampire Democrats, telling his fans that he'd like to poison Nancy Pelosi's wine, and so much more. Beck tries to cover his tracks by writing posts claiming to promote non-violence, while continually using examples of violence and death for his fans to ruminate about.

Those who feel free to use the imagery of violence to achieve their political goals are saying how sad they are about what happened at Giffords' town hall meeting, yet they aren't apologizing for their reckless and careless use of gun imagery nor are they calling on their supporters to reflect after this horrible attack and to rethink how they approach the language they use to foment their purported "revolution."

One has to ask, at what point do people -- especially those with a high profile or a media megaphone -- become responsible for the actions of those who've taken their hyperbole to heart? You don't need to be the one with a loaded gun in your hand to bear some measure of moral, if not legal, responsibility for the actions of those whose anger and desperation you've stoked for your own political gain.

If I give a toddler a book of matches and leave her alone in my house, who's responsible if the house burns down? I might not have lit the match, but I created the irresponsible circumstances for the catastrophe.

Plenty of people will claim that you can't hold politicians responsible for events that may or may not be related to their right to political free speech. But words have power. And words have consequences. Sure, you're free to stand on a soapbox on the corner to talk about your political views, but you can't falsely shout "fire" in a crowded theater that ends up causing a deadly stampede.

The callous and careless use of the language of violence has become de rigueur in our 21st century political world. That's no solace to the mother of nine-year-old Christina Greene who was killed in the assassination attempt of Congresswoman Giffords, a budding politico who had come to the Giffords' event because she wanted to learn more about how she could be a part of the system of governing in our country. At nine, Christina Greene was too young to understand that some who play the game of American politics have no reservations about invoking hyperbole that incites those whose lives and livelihoods hang in the balance today, and that the politicians who believe it's acceptable to incite those feelings have no compulsion to back off that path.

I can only hope that voters will see this dangerous game for what it is and realize that politicians who believe it's acceptable to invoke the language of violence for their political purposes, yet feel no remorse for their part in the actions of people who took their words to heart, have no place in the job of governing.

You can find more of Joanne's political musing at her place, PunditMom, and at Politics Daily, where she is a regular contributor. Joanne's book, Mothers of Intention: How Women & Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America will be published this spring by Bright Sky Press.