Has our political discourse taken a “dangerous turn”?

As Scott notes in a post below, “the race is on to place Jared Loughner among conservatives and attribute responsibility for yesterday’s murders to the political opponents of President Obama.” Less irresponsible precincts of the left are making the related argument that, as the first paragraph of the Washington Post’s lead story puts it, the shooting spree has “raised serious concerns that the nation’s heated political discourse has taken a dangerous turn.”
The nation’s political discourse is the nation’s political discourse – one shooting spree tells us nothing about how dangerous it is. In my judgment, there are places on the fringes of the internet where the discourse may pose the possibility of encouraging violence. But this doesn’t represent a “turn.” For years, the internet was full of claims that, among other crimes, President Bush started a bloody war, based on articulated reasons he knew to be false, for the purpose of assisting oil companies and/or in the pursuit of a personal vendetta, etc.
Might an unbalanced reader have been prompted to engage in violence based on these utterances? Of course. Did the Washington Post point to this danger? Not that I recall. Should those who made these claims about Bush have been censored? Of course not. Would they have been to blame if a reader had gone on a shooting spree? No, they were guilty of heinous discourse and nothing more. Only the shooter (and anyone who acted in concert) would be to blame for the shooting.
In Arizona, as I understand it, some of the public discourse has been particularly heated. But Arizona isn’t really a special case. Those who believe that the federal government has been criminally negligent in enforcing the immigration laws, and that the state is going to hell as a result, are well within their rights to so argue. Similarly, those who believe that those attempting to crack down on immigration are demagogues and/or racists have the right to advance that claim. The fact that a majority disagrees with one or both of these claims, or finds the underlying rhetoric overheated, is irrelevant.
We can all wish for more reasoned discourse, just as we can all wish for milder weather. But complaining about the nation’s discourse is probably a waste of time except as a method of attempting to advance the interests of a particular faction. And that itself can be viewed as an example of unreasonable discourse.


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