I’ve been transfixed in front of my TV all day today – a rarity for a Saturday – watching live coverage of the shootings that took place at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent meeting in Arizona this morning. As an American, I am horrified. As a parent, I am reminded of why I work so hard to teach my own children that words have meaning, and that we should choose what we say carefully, and with mindfulness of the impact our words may carry.
I’m referring to the fact that Governor Sarah Palin’s Political Action Committee has had a site live online for some period of time called “Sarah Palin’s Take Back 20″. The site features a map of the U.S. marked up with obvious gun targets – a bullseye – marking each state with a candidate whom Palin suggests be “taken out” in response to their votes in favor of health care reform. A list of these candidates by name accompanies the gun-sight graphic, and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is on that list. (Note: Palin’s organization has removed the graphic and list since the shooting earlier today). Palin has referred to those same candidates as being “in the crosshairs” and has advised those who opposed the President’s health care reform package to avoid retreat and instead “RELOAD!” (emphasis Governor Palin’s).
As a mother, if I heard my kids talking about other kids, perhaps kids with whom they disagreed, using gun-related metaphors like this, I would immediately instruct them to stop, and I would explain very clearly and forcefully why these word choices are inappropriate and could be misconstrued. If one of my kids made up some sort of map and list of names of people with whom he or she disagreed, and drew bullseyes over the locations where these other kids or adults were physically located, and if my child were found with that map on public school property or if it was posted on Facebook, I would be called to the school office to have it explained to me why my child was being expelled and probably arrested.
But here we have an adult – a very famous, charismatic adult woman with tremendous, far-reaching influence over sane and insane Americans alike – drawing up a graphic representation of a political hitlist, posting it online, and encouraging her supporters to “take out” specific candidates by “reloading” and putting these people “in the crosshairs.” What did Sarah Palin THINK would happen?
I have said before and I will say again that using shooting and gun terminology (visual and editorial) to encourage people to “knock off” certain candidates is offensive to me, and clearly, clearly has the potential to encourage deranged people to believe that Governor Palin was literally suggesting that Rep. Giffords be “put in the crosshairs.”
I have no idea whether the suspect in this shooting was encouraged in any way by Governor Palin’s rhetoric, but even if he wasn’t, this horrific incident will surely convince her that she needs to take more responsibility for the influence she now carries. We all have to be responsible for the words we use in public – that’s something I am sure she’s tried to teach her own children – and now would be a good time for her to remember why.
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