January 10th, 2011
04:01 PM ET

Letters to the President: #721 'Can cooler heads prevail?'

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Reporter's Note: President Obama has spoken before about the need to return more civility to our public discourse. A lot of folks are talking about that now, including me in my daily letter to the White House.

Dear Mr. President,

Some people are implying that over-heated political rhetoric drove that gunman to commit his terrible crime over the weekend, and I suppose it’s a discussion worth having. What dismays me, however, is the extent to which I am not hearing a discussion, but more of the very same heated talk.

The left is blaming the right for invoking violent imagery, the right is blaming the left for pushing an agenda that has spurred a backlash, and they are both still furiously playing the blame game even as they suggest the blame game itself is partially to blame.

In this case and in so many others, there appears to be no reasonable evidence that the shooter represented any cohesive or legitimate political viewpoint. If President Bush had been assassinated by some nut when his enemies were carrying signs demanding precisely that (and they did plenty of times) it would have been unfair to say that the shooter represented the mainstream liberal or Democratic point of view. The same principle applies in the Arizona case. And again, I mean for both sides.

Secondly, either side trying to make political hay out of this tragedy seems tragic in itself. Saying that either party made this happen is like saying the guy who gets bitten by a rabid dog was asking for it because he went for a walk - or that the whole neighborhood is guilty because they didn’t notice the dog on their streets earlier.

Should we reexamine the state of our rhetoric and restore some civility? Sure. But we’ve known that, and elected officials in both parties have been calling for that for years, even as they fill the airwaves with vitriolic ads every time an election rolls around. Should we be careful about allowing our words to become so incendiary that lunatics think they have a “movement” behind them? Yes. But let’s not forget that the internet allows people of like minds to connect across all cultural, geographical, and political boundaries and in a country of 300+ million people, someone who is seeking fellow travelers for even the most radical agenda can likely find them.

People are free to say what they wish, of course, and I know that a lot of people believe this is absolutely the right time to point fingers and ferret out those who hide hate speech behind the label of free speech. But even for those who think there is a link between our political climate and this terrible shooting, I’m at a loss to understand why anyone thinks more fiery words will cool down the overheated political climate.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this, so if you have a moment, give a ring. It was so sad riding to work this morning and seeing all the flags at half staff. From the window of my office I can see two of them right now.


Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Michele Robinson

    First I start by saying ""Please pray for all of those affected by this Since less Tragedy... Can anyone point a finger at the other? Maybe we all share a little blame, and some responsibility in one-way or another... No matter Left or Right- Hate Breeds Hate-I live a small Rural Community in Wyoming-- Which for the most part in a (R) state- This Great Nation give us the Freedom to choose what side you want to be on. But here is the question– ""When you are an Employee in a County Facility that tolerates and allow blatant Discrimination... From out busts at Department meetings F-k Obama, and statement like those towel heads, having the Supervisor in the room does not correct such outburst- What does that Say to the rest of the Staff... Is it ""OK"" to Disrespect and put down any ethnic group, because you have freedom of Speech. The Employer is allowing this kind of Hostile Rhetoric, hate breeds hate. But heaven forbid if you complain- Then you are known as the trouble maker... People have the right the believe what they want- This Is America After all"" But What Responsibity does the employer have when they believe that anyone that is not ""White"" is beneath them.

    January 11, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  2. James

    Tom, what can you expect? They deny their participation in starting a treasonous, costly war, they deny their removal of personal freedoms (Patriot act), they deny their creation of the second worse economy in our history. Now even with their vitriol still hanging in the air from the election, they deny their accountability for the violence that they have created. Apparently The Tea baggers and the GOP isn't accountable for anything that they say or do. They are reaping what they have sown.

    January 11, 2011 at 3:08 am |
  3. Det. R.E.Harris

    My hope & prayer is that our President cancel his trip to Arizona.
    With the current climate of hate for our president, He do not have to prove his concerns for the families by visiting their home state. My mind goes back to the Dallus TX. situation.
    I hope more than myself make the same request.

    January 10, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  4. Annie Kate

    I do think our heated public vitriol whether it is spoken publicly, written on a blog, or messaged in a social network has soured the political discourse of our nation and laid the groundwork for explosive situations like this shooting. Both sides are at fault; no one escapes any of the blame; and both sides will have to learn to stay on the high road instead of brawling on the low road.

    I hope Rep. Gifford recovers fully and that we as a nation are able to step back from where we are now and find a civilized format in which to discuss our political issues.

    January 10, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  5. Liz Sela

    What’s amazing to me about media coverage and opinions of the horrible massacre in Tucson’s shopping center is that most commentators don’t mention the 2009 incident at a similar event in a Tucson supermarket parking lot, hosted by Rep. Giffords (See Gail Collins’ NY Times column, “A Right to Bear Glocks, “ Jan. 11, 2011). Evidently, a protestor in the crowd was waving an opposition sign (“Don’ tread on me”) so vehemently that the handgun in his armpit fell out and dropped to the street. Luckily it didn't fire and no one was hurt. This hapless protestor was not arrested, and the incident of protesters staulking Giffords was downplayed afterwards. Collins points out that “Since then, Arizona has completely eliminated the whole concept of requiring a concealed weapon permit.” Media need to adjust their sights and re-focus on the problem of states like Arizona not willing to renew the law limiting the right to carry a concealed semi-automatic handgun.
    Collins points out that the Glock pistol is easy to fire over and over again, unlike a regular pistol. This kind of Glock is not suited for hunting or personal protection. However, it can take the lives of a large number of innocent bystanders at once, creating a mass slaughter. Reason enough to fight the NRA objections and outlaw these type of weapons. Cooler heads require smart legislation that must and should be passed. Use your votes, not your guns to fight violence.

    January 10, 2011 at 6:49 pm |