Commentary: Deadly Debate

By Derrell Connor Special To Channel 3000

What happened to Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Chief Federal Judge John Roll, nine-year-old Christina Green, and seventeen others who were either wounded or killed in Tucson, Arizona, was a tragedy of the worst kind: victims of random violence perpetrated by an unstable individual. In the days that followed, politicians, journalists and other pundits have been trying to understand why someone would do something like this, and who?s responsible for it. Many have pointed the finger at conservative talk show hosts, such as Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh, personalities whom they feel have created a partisan atmosphere so large that something like this was bound to happen eventually. Or former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose website included a map that placed crosshairs on Congresswoman Giffords? district. While discussions and investigations in the weeks and months to come will determine whether or not that?s the case, my belief is that the fault doesn?t lie with Palin, Limbaugh or Beck. It lies with the young man who pulled the trigger, Jared Loughner.

In my role as a columnist and radio talk show host, I have a responsibility to check the type of language and phrases that I use?to not yell fire in a crowded theater when there isn?t one. That being said, I still don?t believe that one person (or a movie, a song or a video game) can make another person go out and commit acts of violence. The problem we?re facing is that the line between what constitutes a legitimate discussion of the issues and just irresponsible rhetoric has been blurred to the point where it?s almost nonexistent. Take the health care reform debate for example. No matter how you and I may feel about this issue, the fact of the matter is there should have been real discourse and debate about something as important as the future of health care in this country. What we got instead was shouting matches and fear mongering. And with everything that followed?the threats and the acts of vandalism perpetrated against politicians on both sides?can we really be that surprised when something like Tucson?s massacre happens?

My main beef with politics today is that too many voters don?t think for themselves anymore. They?re like sheep waiting to be herded, waiting to hear what the favorite talking head of their respective political party thinks about an issue or policy before they form an opinion. Hanging on to everything these people say and regurgitating it word for word. We?ve simply gotten away from being able to have a healthy debate on important issues that affect all of us. We no longer bother to listen to one another or possess the ability to agree or disagree without all of the fire and brimstone. And what the events of January 8 should teach us is that even though this was an act of one unstable person, the rhetoric that has replaced meaningful discussion and dialogue has gotten out of control. What more has to happen before we finally wake up and say enough is enough?

I was happy to see members of congress step up and join together in solidarity for one of their own. But the question is, what happens next? Will there be a true change in how we discuss issues and policy in America, or will everyone say all the right things for the next couple of weeks, and then it?s back to the same-old, same-old when they feel it?s safe to do so? For Congresswoman Giffords, Judge Roll, Christina Green and the others who were affected by this tragedy, let?s hope it?s the former, not the latter.