The Universal Notebook: Time to stop the crazy talk

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In the wake of the tragic shootings in Tucson, Ariz., there has been a lot of finger-pointing but not a lot of soul-searching when it comes to why a deranged young man attempted to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in the process killing and wounding bystanders.

From the outset, the sheriff of Pima County has pointed a finger at conservative talk radio.

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

Though he did not name names, Dupnik reportedly had radio and TV rabble-rouser Glenn Beck in mind when he made those comments.

So is Glenn Beck personally to blame for the massacre in Tucson? The easy answer is that nothing and no one is to blame when a crazy person commits an horrendous act of violence. But it’s too easy to just blame an irrational mind and leave it at that.

Why would a crazy man plan to shoot up a congresswoman’s public gathering instead of, say, the local community college that had expelled him? Did it have anything to do with the fact that the crazy man was a Hitler lover with suspected ties to white supremacist groups and the congresswoman is a Jewish woman who opposed Arizona’s draconian immigration laws? Maybe, maybe not.

Did it have anything to do with the fact that Sarah Palin posted a map with telescopic-sight crosshairs on it “targeting” Rep. Giffords for defeat? Maybe, maybe not. Did it have anything to do with the fact that Giffords’ opponent held a rally at which he invited supporters to shoot an M16 with him for $50 to “Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office?” Maybe, maybe not.

Did it have anything to do with failed Nevada senatorial candidate Sharron Angle’s warning about “Second Amendment remedies?” Not in and of itself. Though you do have to wonder about the mental state of a woman who would follow a comment about “Second Amendment remedies” by saying, “I’ll tell you the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out.”

And it’s too easy to blame Arizona’s extremely lenient gun laws, which allow just about anyone to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. But the cumulative effect of all the militant right-wing rhetoric about taking back America and all the open-carry advocates showing up armed at tea party gatherings surely had an impact on an unstable mind.

The direct cause of the shootings in Tucson was one crazy young man. But Dupnik is right. One of the indirect causes surely was the climate of anger and hatred inflamed by all the crazy talk in America these days.

Reasonable people should be able to express legitimate concerns and air their differences without making it sound as though they were in a battle between good and evil. I suppose I’m guilty of this demonization myself. All this crazy talk from the right makes me angry. Still, I don’t use gun metaphors to express that anger.

President Obama is a Muslim, a socialist, a Black Panther, a foreigner. Crazy talk. Obama is “either stupid or evil,” as someone now in the Maine Legislature once wrote. Crazy talk. The government is going to take away our guns. Crazy talk. Health-care reform is government tyranny. Crazy talk. Taxation is theft. Crazy talk. The Constitution is under attack. Crazy talk. It’s time for another American Revolution. Crazy talk.

The conventional wisdom is that the shootings in Tucson should not be seen as politically motivated because the shooter’s political ramblings were incoherent. But the crazy talk coming from right-wing extremists is every bit as irrational as that of the disturbed young man who committed this heinous crime. To suggest that it did not contribute to pushing a deranged man over the edge is itself crazy talk.

There is nothing wrong in this country that justifies talk of overthrowing the government. Any assertion to the contrary is (fill in the blank).

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.

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