Monday, January 10, 2011

Are words to blame?

After the horrific killings in Arizona this weekend, and the near-fatal wounding of Congresswoman Giffords, the media is a-twitter about how incendiary language may have created a climate that led that troubled young man to buy a 9mm Glock and use it so disastrously. While I think it's hard to draw a direct causal relationship here, I do agree that the language of violence that has infiltrated American politics is, to say the least, very inappropriate. Sarah Palin's battle cry, "Don't retreat, reload," is the clearest example, and of course much has been made of her gunsight map that names Giffords as a target. Did she want people to go out and shoot political opponents? Quite doubtful. Was she careless and even irresponsible with her language? Most certainly.

Now Representative Robert Brady (D-PA) wants to make the use of language or symbols that could be seen as inciting violence against lawmakers a federal crime. I wonder, though, is this going too far in the opposite direction? How do you prove that language is inciting violence? Where do you draw the line? While I agree with him that the tone of our national conversation has gotten way out of hand, this sounds like the kind of law that could be abused by a paranoid or oppressive government. I don't think our government is oppressive now, but who can say what American will look like in 20 years? Could we become a nation with our most outspoken protesters locked up for their choice of words?

What do you think? What, if anything, should be done to curb the hate speech so carelessly bandied about by our "rogue" politicians? Should it be up to elected officials, or should the voters take the reigns on this one?



  1. Thanks for posting, Amy. I agree with your concern about litigating civility. What I hope will happen is that Americans will begin to see the destructive nature of hate-spewing radio hosts and talk shows. I'm not naive —I know such change won't come quickly or easily. But I also believe that our culture can change for the better, just as it has changed for the worse. It begins with people speaking out against hatred, intolerance, and public speech that intentionally divides and furthers fear and prejudice rather than encourages reason and understanding. It's most important, I think, that we speak and listen openly and honestly to those closest to us. As I've told some of my family members who believe Rush is right, and Glenn Beck is a true patriot, "Just remember, every time they talk about 'liberals destroying America' or compare liberals to Nazis (as Beck has done literally dozens of times), they're talking about people you know and love, like me."

  2. Maybe someone should put together a video for youtube that shows Palin saying this scary and foolish thing, and then, Giffords saying that hate speech will inevitably lead to someone's death. Good Morning America played the two clips side by side, to quite a chilling effect. It might (and should) give anyone who's infatuated with Palin serious, serious pause.

    Freedom of speech is one thing, but hate speech goes over the line.