In our 24/7 instant reaction media cycle, we often see observers draw generalizations or to jump to conclusions well before the facts are in. The recent Tuscon shooting tragedy devolved into a travesty of finger-pointing and name-calling, after many political observers on the left falsely accused those on the right of inciting the violent shooting. In the end, the perp, Jared Loughner turned out to have vaguely leftist political views (hated GW Bush), and was a drug user and mentally unstable individual who had threatened others in the past.
Now, if violence-infused rhetoric were responsible, then we would have to ask about how much these statements influenced us away from 'civility':
* “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.” Barack Obama in July 2008
* “I want you to argue with them and get in their face!” Barack Obama, September 2008
* “Here’s the problem: It’s almost like they’ve got — they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger. You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk them, ease that finger off the trigger.” Barack Obama on banks, March 2009
* “I don’t want to quell anger. I think people are right to be angry! I’m angry!” Barack Obama on ACORN Mobs, March 2010
* “We talk to these folks… so I know whose ass to kick.” Barack Obama on the private sector, June 2010
* “A Republican majority in Congress would mean ‘hand-to-hand combat’ on Capitol Hill for the next two years, threatening policies Democrats have enacted to stabilize the economy.” Barack Obama, October 6, 2010
* “We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.” Barack Obama to Latinos, October 2010
In an ironic twist, one of the victims of the shooting, Eric Fuller, is himself in trouble for making death threats to a Tea Party member. Apparently, he's a liberal of the "I demand civility and I'll kill anyone who disagrees with me" form of PC police.
Did President Obama's fine speech in Tucson get us to civility? Alas, it failed to acknowledge a few key truths, leaving allegations that are unfounded 'out there'. For one, the left and the Democrats are incapable of owning up to the fact that their political rhetoric, even President Obama's himself, is as violence-tinged ("we bring a gun") as anyone on the right. Such rhetorical devices are out there. Targets on maps? Used by both sides. Slanders and slurs and demeaning personal insults degrade our politics, and yet that seems to be the 'meat' of what MSNBC serves up these days. Nobody has been subjected to such attacks more than Gov Sarah Palin. Will more attacks on Palin get us to civility? Hardly.
Getting to 'civility' starts with a recognition of a few central facts: First, the rhetorical devices that involve metaphors of violence are practiced by both sides, and both sides 'fight' for their issues; second, that neither side has a monopoly on virtue or vice; third, that those responsible for actual violence are those who engage in it, and nobody else. Most important, using these 'calls for civility' as cynical political ploys to smear your opponents is itself uncivil and wrong.
Police your own, heal thyself and look to your OWN actions first. Actions always speak louder than words. On this score, we should be not that impressed with a President calling on others to be civil, and I will be far more impressed if and when he starts taking his own advice.
We have had the most divisive leadership in Washington in a long time. Will Obama, Reid and Pelosi change their ways? Sittting down with Republicans on how to rollback and repeal part of the widely unpopular Obamacare bill, and Senator Reid actually allowing a vote in the U.S. Senate on it would be a step towards civility in DC. Recognizing that the Tea party is and should be a legitimate voice in the political arena would be a step forward. Declaring an end to the political of personal destruction would help. Actions always speak louder than words, and it is the actions - not the speeches - of our leaders that will build up or tear down our civil discourse.