You should read James Fallows on the massacre in Tucson:
We don't know why the Tucson killer did what he did. If he is like Sirhan, we'll never "understand." But we know that it has been a time of extreme, implicitly violent political rhetoric and imagery, including SarahPac's famous bulls-eye map of 20 Congressional targets to be removed -- including Rep. Giffords. It is legitimate to discuss whether there is a connection between that tone and actual outbursts of violence, whatever the motivations of this killer turn out to be. At a minimum, it will be harder for anyone to talk -- on rallies, on cable TV, in ads -- about "eliminating" opponents, or to bring rifles to political meetings, or to say "don't retreat, reload."
One point can't be stressed enough; regardless of Loughner's motives, this is an inherently political situation. Howie Kurtz (and others) notwithstanding, you can't separate the attempted assassination of a public official from the politics of the day, and as Fallows notes, those politics are increasingly filled with relentlessly hostile rhetoric by major figures in the conservative movement.
That said, it's still true that genuine political violence is incredibly rare in the contemporary era, and elected officials are unlikely to suffer violence or injury for their views or actions. In a country of 300 million people, with hundreds of thousands of elected officials, we should understand that as a genuine achievement, especially since the age of regular political violence is still within living memory for many Americans. To repeat a point I made last week:
...political violence was once a regular feature of American life; in the 20th century, four presidents survived assassination attempts, while two -- William McKinley and John Kennedy -- were victims. In the 19th century, violence claimed two presidents: Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield, while Andrew Jackson survived an assassination attempt. Attempts have been made on the lives of presidential candidates, some successful -- like the assassination of Robert Kennedy -- and others, like the attempt on George Wallace, less so. Dozens of elected officials have been violently attacked over the course of American history, and dozens more have been killed (including 24 officials in the Reconstruction South).
The proper response to the tragedy in Tucson isn't to pass new laws or expand the security state; it is to reinforce the norms that have kept our politics relatively violence-free for the last few decades.
-- Jamelle Bouie
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