When mad men become madmen

A 22-year-old man grabbed a gun today and went on a rampage. His target? Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Gifford. She survived, in spite of being shot through the head. But at least six other people died—including a 9-year-old.

Armed assaults aren’t that uncommon in the States. (There was another shoot-out just a few days ago in Chandler, Arizona.) But today’s shooting was different.

According to the Associated Press story,

The shooting comes amid a highly charged political environment that has seen several dangerous threats against lawmakers …

A San Francisco man upset with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s support of health care reform pleaded guilty to threatening the Democratic congresswoman and her family, calling her directly on March 25 and threatening to destroy her Northern California home if she voted for health care reform.

In July, a California man known for his anger over left-leaning politics engaged in a shootout with highway patrol officers after planning an attack on the ACLU and another nonprofit group. The man said he wanted to “start a revolution” by killing people at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation.

Giffords herself has drawn the ire of the right, especially for her support of the health care bill, from politicians like Sarah Palin.

Her Tucson office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote to approve the health care law in March, with someone either kicking or shooting out a glass door and window.

I can understand being frustrated about a policy you don’t agree with. But I really can’t understand how someone could get so angry about health care reform that they’d want to kill someone.

There’s a terrible undercurrent of anger in our culture. And if the irresponsible “entertainers and enlighteners” continue to feed it, it’s only a matter of time before more mad men become madmen.

Update, posted January 9:
An article in today’s Daily Mail provided excellent insights into the political climate that fed yesterday’s tragic events.
Can we blame political rhetoric such as Sarah Palin’s inflammatory ‘Don’t react, reload’ for triggering the Safeway massacre?”
According to another report,
Giffords … was among about 20 Democrats opposed in last fall’s elections by Sarah Palin, the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee. Palin’s Facebook page in March posted a U.S. map with the cross-hairs of a gun scope imposed over each of the 20 Democrats’ districts. Gun imagery appeared in various ways in the campaign, often not connected at all with gun rights.
“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list,” Giffords said at the time. “The way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences to that action.”
How tragically ironic that Giffords suffered some of those consequences. I think Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik summed it up best:
The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. … That may be free speech. But it’s not without consequence.”
It’s difficult to imagine that anything good could come out of an event like yesterday’s, but I hope it at least makes Americans pause and think about the tone of our political discourse.
Amid all the vitriol, we’ve forgotten that important issues are seldom clear-cut. We’ve forgotten that, in spite of our differences, we still have much in common. And I fear we’ve also forgotten that a house divided against itself cannot stand.


  1. I have to apologize, but this state of affairs began the moment Sarah Palin started with the whole Obama is palling around with terrorists trash, and has only escalated ever since. Sure, there are crazies on both sides, and I’m not making excuses for anyone; I just think it’s time we started acting like adults.

    • You’re absolutely right: There are crazies on both sides. But they’d go away (or at least be far less influential) if people would just stop paying attention to them. That’s why I think it’s time for the average, more-or-less-centrist, level-headed American to start holding the crazies—on both sides—accountable. After all, isn’t it supposed to be a government by the people, for the people?

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