January 11, 2011

Debate escalates over effect of rhetoric in U.S. politics

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Across the ideological spectrum, officials and activists agreed after Saturday's Tucson massacre that it was time to soften the harsh edges of America's raucous national dialogue.

But by Monday, a bitter debate had erupted over how to do it – and on whose terms.

On the right, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., lashed out at liberals who have blamed the shooting rampage in part on tea party-inspired anger, arguing these same liberals "cannot bring themselves" to draw connections between accused terrorists and "radical Islam ideology."

Rush Limbaugh accused Democrats of "rubbing their hands together" in anticipation of using the shooting as a political revitalization. Glenn Beck reminded his radio listeners that there are "nut jobs on all sides."

Some on the left, meanwhile, continued to look for political links to Saturday's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., noting that Giffords had been the subject of threats because of her support for President Obama's health care overhaul and her opposition to Arizona's tough anti-illegal immigration law.

Pima County Sheriff Charles Dupnik, a Democrat and political ally of Giffords who began citing the role of political anger within hours of the shooting, took his comments a step further into partisan terrain Monday.

Dupnik told Fox News that he sees "one party trying to block the attempts of another party to make this a better country."

Part of the bitterness is driven by manipulation of the news media, according to one expert.

"We have 24-hour coverage and if you let your political opposition have 12 or 15 hours unanswered, they have already determined what the conclusion of the story is," said Martin Medhurst, a Baylor University professor of rhetoric and communications.

"To the extent we politicize tragedies, whether it's by the left or the right, it's unfortunate, but it has to be, because of the system we live in."


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