It didn’t take long after Saturday’s shooting in Arizona for speculation about the motive to surface. Since a Democrat was the target, so the thought went, the assassin surely was a Tea Party Republican or at least fell under Sarah Palin’s (or should that have been Christine O’Donnell’s) spell. Many of my progressive FBFs (Facebook friends) were quick off the mark to place the blame with the “other side,” citing the vicious attacks of the most recent campaign season. I thought at the time that some might be a little red-faced when the shooter’s state of mind and motivation became known.
In spite of my caution around pointing the finger at a particular party or group, I can’t help but feel that the tone set by the nation’s political leaders must have an impact on ordinary citizens. The whole idea behind attack ads is to penetrate deeply into the psyches of voters and elicit knee-jerk emotional responses against an opponent. If you’re not intentionally on your guard against such negativity and vitriol, it can easily stick. And let’s face it: it’s not just one party or group that is to blame for these ads and the airing of rancorous sentiment. Supporters of candidates for both parties stoop to such tactics.
We may never know the extent, if any, to which attack ads or the invective of politicians and their supporters added to the murderer’s motives, yet it seems reasonable to call a time out and question how much longer we will tolerate aggressive ad hominem attacks in public discourse. In a society that ascribes, at least in name, to Judeo-Christian values what has become of the commandment to not bear false witness (the 9th)? What has become of Jesus’ invitation to love your neighbor as you love yourself? Why is it that good people of faith feel that in the political realm Christian ethics are no longer applicable? Is this the intention behind the separation of church and state? I think not. Is this an outcome of the separation of church and state? Again, I think not for to agree would be hubris and comes too close to making the church an idol.
Basic principles of kindness, truthfulness, and respect – the values we should want to pass on to future generations – need to be modeled by public servants. The time has come for concerned citizens to stand up for what is right and be counted among the growing numbers of people who are dissatisfied with the extent of invective in politics. In such a rising the means and the ends are dearly intertwined. Kindness, truthfulness, and respect need at every point to be modeled. It’s time for a revolution in the way we live into our ethics. The time for action has come. No less than the very best we have to offer has to be given. We have a tremendous opportunity in this moment of questioning to begin to make meaningful change – change we really can depend on.