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Local political minds re-examine civil discourse after Arizona shooting

Posted January 9, 2011
Updated January 10, 2011

The shooting of an Arizona Congresswoman Saturday ignited debate about the age-old practice of using inflammatory rhetoric to incite political change. 

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said "political vitriol" was likely a factor in the shooting that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and killed a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl and four others.

Jared Loughner, 22, has been charged in the shooting. He has been described as "mentally unstable" and "a loner." In a news conference Sunday, an emotional Dupnik said people with mental issues are especially vulnerable to fiery speech.

A political scientist at Peace College in Raleigh said red-hot rhetoric is nothing new. What has changed, said David McLennan, is the ease with which political discourse is disseminated, and the divisive nature of American media culture.

"We have blogs and the Internet and we have talk radio," McLennan said. 

Political scientist: Fiery rhetoric is nothing new Political scientist: Fiery rhetoric is nothing new

Rallies protesting health care, immigration and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan harken McLennan back to a time when church bombings, assassinations, protests and violence were splashed all over headlines.

"We have periods in U.S. history where the discourse has been just as vitriolic, just as heated," he said. "Back in the 60s, we had anti-war and civil rights protests that were just as loud."

"There have always been assassinations and bombings," McLennan said. 

Hundreds of people shouted against health care reform outside Rep. Brad Miller's office in Raleigh in August 2009, but it was calm compared to rallies across the nation.

"I've been saying for a year and a half that I was afraid that the very extreme, hateful, menacing rhetoric and political tactics would ultimately lead to violence, somebody being hurt or killed," MIller said.

In the wake of Saturday's assassination attempt against Giffords, a Democrat who voted in favor of health care reform, drawing loud and sometimes threatening criticism, Miller is not the only one questioning whether vitriolic speech encourages violence.

"It's got to be the players who are going to have a look back and say maybe we have pushed the envelope too far," McLennan said. But he said peaceful assembly and debate is an American virtue to embrace.

Dallas Woodhouse, state director for Americans for Prosperity who has helped organize Tea Party rallies in North Carolina, said today's discourse is tame compared to other points in history.

"There's not a problem with our public discourse in America. We have strong robust debate," Woodhouse said. "This is simply a criminal act by a lunatic."

He said what happened in Tucson is horrific, but it's a risk that comes with a free society.

"It should not cow any of us from being vigorously involved in our public debate," Woodhouse said.


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  • short Jan 11, 2011

    complain2thepeople that matter - please does facts matter or are you in denial there? Let me falsely convict you of a crime - no facts - no evidence - but just on my opinion? Please go back and read what you are writing - please state the FACTS that make a connection to the psychotic killer to anyone statement made by Palin? For all we know at the moment - he has been stalking her since 2007 - it could be a luv infatuation....that is just as credible as any of the spew coming from your mouth...oh by the way without facts....just your emotion. Even the sheriff - geez no political thought there - never mind he's the one that would not enforce the immigration law......and no 9 year old deserve this - no more than any one individual deserves to be accused of creating it without any facts - short of that - your on a witch hunt...and have your head in the sand on what the left has done.

  • chevybelair57sd Jan 11, 2011

    This tragic incident is related to another government shortfall, incomplete screening for gun purchase, The power struggle between libs and conserv has created a robust, nasty atmosphere politically which stirsup fringe mentalities but proper screenings would prohibit them buying a gun.

  • Arapaloosa Jan 11, 2011

    "Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said "political vitriol" was likely a factor in the shooting that critically injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and killed a federal judge, a 9-year-old girl and four others."

    He later admitted to a reporter that this was only his opinion, and there was no evidence to back this claim up. From Loughner's own blogs, he was neither conservative nor liberal, but an anti-government extremist. The sheriff himself said there was nothing indicating he even listened to talk radio or Fox, so all of the hate against conservatives and the Tea Party is completely invalid.

  • Arapaloosa Jan 11, 2011

    "By the way that quote from BO "bring a knife, I bring a gun" comes from the movie the Untouchables. Sean Connery said it. It's called the "Chicago way"."

    That's what scares the cr*p out of us.

  • whatelseisnew Jan 10, 2011

    "For example, saying that "separation of church and state" was not in the Constitution"

    Separation of Church and State isn't in the constitution. All the words that are there stipulate is that Congress can not make law that establishes a religion, nor can they make law that infringes on the right to practice a religion. Unfortunately because of the twisted perspective of our times, peoples right to practice their religion is often infringed.

  • regretpostinganythingonwral3 Jan 10, 2011

    To my fellow Americans: I am glad we now have a President who has more than a double digit IQ. Considering the mess he was left, what has gone on since the stolen election of 00, and everything in between, it's very hard for any reasonable person to see how this stuff is all connected. This is now the 5th time the "republican \ whig's" did this to the nation. They keep getting people to fight and stop listening so they can keep stealing more and more of our present and our futures. Everyone is upset, except, guess who? the very rich. The people on Wall street don't seem to upset except for trying to kill the regulation needed to restore the rule of law for all. There is a big chunk of the right that has thrown out the rule of law, and they all have their pockets heavier. Barak Obama didn't do this stuff. Cheney, Bush and the Contract with America did this. Look at all 4 previous Speakers of the house from the right. They are all convicted felons aren't they? yes...

  • Keepin_it_real_in_NC Jan 10, 2011

    Hey complain2thepeoplethatmatter, the Dems did the samething, but that seems okay. They also refered to it as "Behind the Enemy Lines." So, their violant speech is okay, but not from the right.


  • Keepin_it_real_in_NC Jan 10, 2011

    "They teach hate!! "

    Yes they do.

    "If They Bring a Knife to the Fight, We Bring a Gun" - Obama

  • regretpostinganythingonwral3 Jan 10, 2011

    jscletsplay1002002 thanks for your words and as a Fellow American I agree. So much has been done to this nation, and we all know who did it. Part of what we are supposed to do is get people to listen to reason. I have read this person's stuff quite a bit. I seriously doubt his claims.

    I have never seen the level of lying that goes on in this nation's media now. Once again, why do we rate movies for violence and porn? Why do we have music standards? Why do we not show this kind of stuff during the day and in prime time? because words DO affect people. No one can walk away from what Engle and Palin did. I agree with others, why did they pull it down off the web if it wasn't meant that way, or could be construed that way. By the way that quote from BO "bring a knife, I bring a gun" comes from the movie the Untouchables. Sean Connery said it. It's called the "Chicago way". Fox took it completely out of context.

  • jscletsplay1002002 Jan 10, 2011

    that is very true @complain2thepeoplethatmatter

    Ive talked and met many people of all political backgrounds, and really we all do feel the same except there are some that are extreme rights and some are extreme lefts. I find that there are many peopel that dont research what they are being told by their media, and they believe what is told to them 100%.
    This instance of violent behavior is produced by one of those extreme sides (we all know which side) They teach hate!!
    If I get you to argue, we cant work together to stop this mess!!!