It comes as little surprise that, in the aftermath of the horrific shooting in Tucson, Arizona that killed a half dozen people and wounded more than twice that number--including a member of the U.S. House of Representatives--that the left and the right are both trying to establish a claim to the moral high ground.
The left is blaming the limited- and anti-government rhetoric expressed by the Tea Party movement and by the Republicans for creating an environment in which shooting pubic officials has somehow become fair game. The right is responding with charges of its own, pointing out where liberals and Democrats have urged or fantasized in public about meritorious acts of violence against, among others, former President George W. Bush, newly-inaugurated Florida Gov. Rick Scott and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Neither side is completely right or completely wrong--even though, based on what we now known about the alleged shooter--the Tucson massacre was an act of madness rather than a political protest. The American political system, with its constitutional guarantees of free speech and free of thought, is notoriously vigorous and has been so throughout history. [Photo Gallery: Gabrielle Giffords Shooting in Arizona.]
Where both sides are mistaken is in the idea that the current level of rhetoric somehow represents a nadir for the nation. Those who choose to comment on it would do well to study U.S. history before opening their mouths or putting pen to paper. There are plenty of examples--the attacks the Jeffersonian Democrats made against John Adams and the Federalists, the Jacksonians’ assault on the character of John Quincy Adams, and the vehemence with which Lincoln was assailed by those opposed to his presidency even in the North--that make the arguments of the current era look like a high school debate.
What few if any of the commentators who are now weighing in on the Tucson massacre have failed to mention is that, in a nation of more than 300 million people, acts of politically-motivated violence are surprisingly rare. Remember that, through out the world there are places where car bombings, shooting, abductions, assassinations, riots and the unlawful arrest and detention of members of “the political opposition” are not rare but are, in fact, commonplace.
In the United States the Founding Fathers gave us a system of government that allows for the peaceful redress of grievances, most often through the use of the ballot box. In the days and weeks ahead, as the back-and-forth over the tragedy in Tucson continues to escalate, we would all do well to remember just how lucky we are to live in a country where political debates and the transfer of power, no matter how heated the rhetoric surrounding them may become, occur peacefully rather than violently.