In the Line of Fire

There is a debunked urban legend that holds that, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on their shooting rampage in Columbine High School nearly twelve years ago, that they asked one girl if she was a Christian and she proudly said, “Yes,” before they shot her head off. The ultra-religious effectively declared her a “martyr” for their cause.

At the time, I remember thinking that I saw her as a part of the problem, of being a part of an organization that vilifies outsiders, pushing them to the point of stress, anger, outrage, and frustration that they do something desperate. That’s not to say that I’m blaming the victims here, but angry speech begets angry responses.

Sometimes, the target is the angry speakers themselves. Sometimes, it’s the target of those speakers’ anger.

But it doesn’t really take much to set someone off. A lot of people are angry over a lot of things — usually when they don’t feel as though they’re getting their fair share — and sometimes the release of that anger is a combination of motivation and opportunity.

A lot of pundits are arguing that the hateful rhetoric that is coming from the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and other people who currently occupy visible positions in the modern American political “right” caused the tragic shooting in Tuscon, AZ, two days ago that left nine people, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl dead, and a congresswoman in critical condition.

The shooter himself is not talking. He’s at least got that bit of his constitutional rights down. There’s relatively little doubt that he’s a nutjob.

Note that I’m using the word “nutjob” here because the word insane is a legal classification and I’m not qualified to say whether he is or is not certifiably insane. I’d almost argue that if he knows that he can stay quiet about something in order not to incriminate himself — which is to say he knows, at least in the vaguest, most nebulous of senses, that he may have done something wrong — is proof enough that he’s actually not insane. Insanity, I believe, has a requirement that you literally don’t know you’re doing something bad.

But here’s one thing I do think: the left-wing, the liberals, and the nebulous entity that Beck, Limbaugh, Palin et al refer to as “mainstream media” have finally found their voice.

Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. It gives anyone the right and the opportunity to stand up and allow his or voice to be heard. But the conservatives have really been the only ones of late who have been taking advantage of this.

Now the liberals are stepping up and giving the conservatives a taste of their own proverbial medicine: vilifying their opponents, standing up, and effectively beating back their attackers. I hope they don’t stop.

At the end of the day, of course, we may never know if Jared Loughner was inspired by the words of any of the pundits on Fox News. Regardless, the left has finally decided to strike back, to call out the right using their own tactics against them. If Rush Limbaugh can try to incite fear in the populace by saying that liberals will take away your guns, then Rachel Maddow has the right to try to incite fear in the populace by saying that conservatives will encourage people to open fire while you’re out grocery shopping.

I hope that this time in American history is a short one, one that is not marked by vilification of one’s enemies but instead honest and thoughtful attempts to find common ground to solve our problems. That’s got to start with a well-informed electorate, not one that’s informed by pundits whose knee-jerk reaction to anything anyone says is derived from the political affiliations of those speakers, and certainly one that’s not informed by 30-second campaign ads on TV.

And so, in the words of another peace-loving individual who was gunned down way to early in life, “You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”