No, now is not the time to discuss our "political rhetoric" 

Gabby Giffords is in my prayers, as are Judge John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorwin Stoddard, Christina Greene, Dorothy Murray, and Phyllis Scheck and their families, along with those wounded by the shooter yesterday in Tuscon.

But I disagree with the pundits, reporters, and politicians who say now is the time to examine our political rhetoric. The political organization "No Labels" epitomizes this talk with its statement telling us to ask questions about "the larger political forces that may have contributed to [the shooting]." The heart of the statement: "something is deeply wrong with our political discourse -- and that with this incident, a dangerous line has been crossed."

Think about the premise behind claims like this. The assumption is that we should change the way we talk about politics so as to make attacks on politicians less likely. This isn't an absurd claim, it's just the wrong claim at this time.

Here's a thought experiment:

What if we could go back in time, six years, and change only our political rhetoric, with the sole aim of preventing this massacre. Can anyone prescribe a course of action with any confidence they could reduce the probability of Loughner doing what he did?

Even if Barack Obama hadn't promised to bring a gun to a knife fight, even if Sarah Palin hadn't used cross-hairs in her map, even if the DNC hadn't used bulls-eyes in theirs, even if Daily Kos hadn't called Giffords a "target" in the "crosshairs," I don't think we could have reduced the odds. The guy, all signs indicate, went from being a fairly normal kid to being a schizophrenic.

There are lots of reasons to watch our tone and our analogies. I've regretted my word choice in the past. I'm sure I will in the future. Today, I've learned not to use crosshairs and hunting or military analogies, because if the person does get shot, you'll feel really bad about it. 

But the notion that our political rhetoric had anything to do with today's shooting is unfounded.

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Timothy P. Carney

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