The Tucson Tragedy: Inciting Thought

The tragedy in Tucson eleven days ago spawned a national debate over whether certain types of political expression incite violence and should, therefore, be banned. Congressman Robert Brady, D-Pa, lead proponent of the ban, identifies a Sarah Palin map of the U.S. as the calamity’s trigger. Opponents charge Brady with political opportunism at its rankest, especially since the investigation was barely underway when the Congressman launched his verbal assault. In the days since Brady’s allegation, not a single piece of evidence has surfaced supporting his claim against Palin. From all that appears, the Tucson trigger was pulled by a mind steeped in bizarrely disconnected thoughts, without a political agenda.

President Obama, in his speech in Arizona last week, tried to lay the current First Amendment controversy to rest.  According to the President, and most Americans, rhetoric did not motivate the crimes committed in the Safeway parking lot. But, what about in a different time or in a different place? Should Palin’s map, and similar representations, be banned for inciting violence? It comes down to whether the map directs imminent lawless action and is likely to produce that action.

Palin’s map of the U.S. accompanies her pitch to defeat big spending congressional representatives and “send them back to the private sector”. The map identifies 20 Congressional Districts that went for McCain in 2008 but have representatives who voted for Obamacare.  The article names the Districts and their representatives and urges voters to replace them with fiscally responsible individuals.

The map labels each of the 20 Districts with a solid circle bisected by two short, intersecting lines. Brady refers to these icons as “crosshairs”. His argument for the ban is pinned on them. However, nothing in the text of the article refers to the icons or to violence of any kind. It is similar to a map which has been on the Democratic Leadership Council website for more than six years. That chart of the U.S., entitled, “Target Strategy”, has bulls eyes on nine states. The states are claimed to be “behind enemy lines”. The accompanying article sets out a strategy for recapturing the American heartland for the Democrat Party after the 2004 election.

For violent political representations, nothing beats photos of President George W. Bush on rally and website placards. They show actual crosshairs planted on his face. There is also a photo of Bush being executed with a close-range shot to the head. If you’re wondering where Robert Brady was when these photos appeared, he was where he is today, in the U.S. Congress. Yet, he has never uttered a single discouraging word about any of them, not even the execution shot. More importantly, Bush was never shot, despite the graphic imagery inviting just that. If the explicitly-violent, anti-Bush placards did not spawn death to politicians, who could reasonably expect that maps of focused political campaigns would? Certainly, not a rational mind.

If, at this moment, an individual in our Country is pouring over the Palin map and plotting violence, what type of human must he be? Who would see the map and think, “Light bulb moment! I’m going to shoot a politician”? A person with a defective mind, of course. Blockhead. Bonehead. Dunce. Dullard. Take your pick. He’d have to ignore the entire text of the message and, instead, develop, in the darkroom of his mind, a photo of bloodthirsty barbarity.

But, the tortured reasoning of deranged minds is not the standard by which our rights are defined. Our system of laws does not use the abnormal to define normal. Our conduct is not shackled by what the worst among us can make out of the ordinary. Palin’s map does not direct imminent lawless action or any action at all, except to vote out of office those who support big government. Where’s the violence in that?

Brady argues that the shooting has terrified and panicked some congressional spouses. And, so, regarding the ban, he asks, “Why would you be against it?” Because our most basic freedoms are not defined by the discomfort felt by any group. The comfort factor may work well for food choices but really takes a bite out of our personal liberties.

See you on the left-side.