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Never Let a Tragedy Go to Waste


When former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel advised never letting a crisis go to waste - as political opportunity - he might have added tragedy as well.


The blood had barely dried on the sidewalk at Jan. 8's Tucson Tragedy before the politicians, pundits and gadfly personalities of the left raced to find cameras and microphones and pollute the blogosphere with hyped-up vitriol of the kind they criticize. They directed blame at talk radio, Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and inadequate gun control. Remarkably, no one found a way to blame the wearing of fur or global warming. They didn't have the decency to let even a day pass without cashing in politically on this tragedy.


Assassinations and attempted assassinations of political figures in the United States is nothing new - Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan, even the very vanilla and exceedingly affable Gerald Ford. I may be mistaken, but I do not believe Rush Limbaugh was on the air when Lincoln was shot.


If one wishes to use an incident such as this as impetus to raise complaints and cautions about the sometimes hyperbolical, sometimes deliberately inflammatory tone of present political discourse, rational thought requires diagnosis of cause, not just pointing at the symptoms and screaming.


Public talk and media are mirrors, not makers. This nation is in the grip of extreme disgust and rage with politicians of all parties and persuasions, in the White House, Congress, statehouses and local councils. Seems to me, with very good reason. The anger crosses many otherwise-in-conflict segments of society: rich, poor; white, black; young, old; business owners, employees; white collar, blue collar; liberal, conservative. For their own, different reasons, Michael Moore and Bill Maher are mad as hell and saying so; Glenn Beck and Mark Levin are mad as hell and saying so.


If we accept that the tone of discourse that reflects this rage and disgust is a factor in the Tucson tragedy or fear it will ignite future violence, then we ought be serious enough about the matter to focus on causes. In this, Congress itself shares blame for putting its own Members in the cross-hairs of rage.


Congress has displayed ugly arrogance in defying the will of the people, shoving through multi-thousand page bills unread, loading bills with outrageous earmarks, running up a 14-trillion dollar deficit (an act of unbridled recklessness if not treason), refusing to defend our borders (another act of treason). Its own dereliction of duty, incestuous relationships with lobbyists, and willful ignorance permitted the financial crisis that now has us all locked in long-lasting recession. If a large share of public talk and reflective media talk is of "declaration of war against the elected who refuse to serve" nature, the blame for it must be shared by those who have made themselves targets of the rage by their own misbehavior.


While getting his rightful second chance, NFL star quarterback Michael Vick cannot be too outraged at the significant number of people who celebrate his defeats and wish him ill. (Plenty of them call into sports-talk radio and say so, sometimes in very inflammatory ways.) He did, after all, bankroll and participate in the torture and killing of dogs. Politicians frightened and angered by the Tucson incident - and, more so, the mad rush of those eager to capitalize on the incident to criticize entirely uninvolved parties like radio talksters - need to stop and think about who has been torturing the electorate.


I imagine, incidentally, that the Brits felt that the rhetoric leading up the prior American Revolution was inflammatory and unhealthy, and would like to have suppressed it.


A very smart businessman, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, is quoted as cautioning, "Don't fear your competitors. Fear your customers." Were I to join the many making use of the Tucson tragedy, I would warn our politicians to fear the climate of rage, disgust and distrust they themselves have created.


The fact that this occasionally boils over into violence and tragedy should be no shock. Such occurrences can never be completely prevented. There will always be crazies out there who marshal the capability to manufacture a violent incident. But if it is true that the present fired-up, fiery tone of political discourse makes such things more likely, the sensible reaction is not to bellow about Palin's web site or some radio program, but to examine why the "customers" are so damn mad - and fix it.