RANCHO SANTA FE, CA., January 8, 2011 – Representative Gabrielle Giffords, U.S. District Court Judge John Rolls, and 17 other people, including a 9-year-old child, were shot today at a community outreach event the Congresswoman was holding for her constituents at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona. The senselessness of this act speaks for itself, and it is an indictment of the dangerous direction in which our Nation has been heading. While I normally explore political issues with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek, this is a time for somber reflection rather than satire.
Six of the 19 shooting victims have already died. I can only pray that the obituaries of others will not be added to the list. I do not believe in honoring the type of selfish, worthless individuals who commit such horrific acts by sharing their names, ages, or backgrounds. In a civilized society, they do not even merit a keystroke. However, I do feel compelled to comment upon a disease from which our country is suffering; a disease whose symptoms include unfounded beliefs that are driven by vitriolic political statements designed to enflame passionate commitment to one ideology or another. The desired, and too often successful result is a blind acceptance of a particular Party’s point of view and a self-imposed deafness to the reasoned positions offered by the “opposition.” Enough!
Our formal and informal political Parties function as marionettes; pulling the emotional strings of the puppets who respond and cast votes without thoughtful consideration. When was the last time you read either of the major Parties’ national platforms, which purportedly list their commitments? If you are like most individuals, the answer is “never.” In fact, that is why I wrote The Left isn’t Right and The Right is Wrong, which contain the actual texts of both Parties’ national platforms. I simply use satire as an antidote to the disease caused by political prejudice because humor can seduce individuals to consume content they might otherwise find to be impalatable. So, why is that important?
We live in an increasingly polarized political world in which zealots routinely “talk past” one another. Conservatives have nothing good to say about Liberals, and Liberals have nothing good to say about Conservatives. They counterbalance the absence of positive engagement with a propensity for vicious attacks. To add to the impasse, “political correctness” has become one of the most effective weapons known to mankind. It is used to shut down intellectual debate; wielded by those whose passion to be “right” exceeds any obligation to be ethically honest and factually correct. “Political correctness” can be loaded without facts, aimed without reason, and fired without conscience.
It doesn’t take an intellectual giant to call someone a racist or bigot; nor does it take one to suggest that the “other” Party is the reincarnation of Satan. The mere innuendo sways the masses, and political strategists recognize this and use it to “pull the strings” of an unsuspecting public.
Howard Stern is often characterized as a “shock jock,” but I find the vituperative pronouncements of biased political pundits to be far more “shocking” than the puerile humor of Mr. Stern. More importantly: Howard Stern’s musings rarely (if ever) incite violence. I truly believe that the ranting of the real “shock jocks” among media personalities and certain “win at all costs” politicians has spread the disease of intolerance to far too many members of our society, and today we witnessed a manifestation of what happens when intolerance is elevated to hatred.
I do not mean to accuse those who fanatically support one Party over another of being responsible for today’s tragedy. It was the irrational act of a single individual. However, I do believe it is time to consider whether our actions have fostered a negative environment in a contributory way.
I follow every Party’s position and follow the broadcasts, articles, blogs, and posts from the far Left … to the far Right. It is the nature of my profession. I find an unfortunately high percentage of what I watch, hear, or read to be emotionally charged, factually inaccurate, and deeply disturbing. The next time you are tempted to ignore what the opposing Party has to say, to shout someone down or deride them by calling them names, or to insinuate something that you cannot prove, consider tempering your response. Try a modification of the Rotarian Four-Way Test:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and a better country?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Most of today’s political rhetoric can’t even pass the first test. As Eldridge Cleaver said when he paraphrased an old African proverb, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.”
A Congresswoman was critically wounded today. A federal judge and a minimum of five other individuals were murdered. Among those who died was a little 9-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who had recently been elected to student council. Her neighbor took her to Representative Giffords’ “meet-and-greet” because she thought Christina would enjoy it. How many tragedies must we endure before we stop the irresponsible, inflammatory comments and actions that threaten our President, Senators, Congressmen, Judges, and other civil servants as well as our citizens-at-large … and our innocent children?
T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.
This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, The Common Sense Czar, in the Communities Section of The Washington Times.