The immediate question in the aftermath of Saturday's horrific shooting spree in Tucson was, of course, why?
Why did the accused assailant target Rep. Gabrielle Giffords while she was holding her first "Congress on the Corner" event of 2011 at a shopping center?
Why did the assailant, identified by authorities as 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, spray bullets into the crowd, killing a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge, one of Giffords' aides and three elderly bystanders?
Police had barely cordoned off the parking lot before partisans rushed to offer answers. The liberal blog Daily Kos was quick to highlight Sarah Palin's infamous target list of lawmakers to defeat, suggesting that had something to do with the shooting. MSNBC's Keith Olbermann soon chimed in, urging Palin to repudiate her part in "amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics."
There's little doubt that certain Republican and tea party candidates have engaged in inflammatory rhetoric, ranging from Palin's use of the word "tyranny" in regard to President Barack Obama to Sharron Angle's quote – "I hope we are not getting to Second Amendment remedies" – in her bid to unseat Harry Reid for U.S. Senate.
Yet it is not just the conservative fringe that has lost perspective. When Obama uses the word "enemies" instead of "opponents," and when Olbermann gains fame by nightly listing "the worst person in the world," it sends a message that hate is acceptable and disagreement must be settled through combat.
Saturday's shooting has launched a national conversation on the increasing toxicity of political discourse. It is long overdue. As Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Saturday, "The vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business and what (we) see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in. And I think it's time that we do the soul-searching."
To read the complete editorial, visit www.sacbee.com.