Many of you know of the shooting that occurred last Saturday in Tucson, AZ. It's truly a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones on that day.
Since then, there's been a lot of talk about what role Sarah Palin had to play in all this, because a couple months ago, she had put online a map of various congressional districts marked with sniper rifle crosshairs (meaning voters should vote those representatives out of office), one of which was Representative Gabrielle Giffords's district. Sarah Palin herself has posted a response in the form of a recorded video online to these accusations linking her and the map to the shooting.
I think it's clear at this point that the shooting was not politically motivated — the perpetrator was a first-class lunatic who was targeting figures of government in general, so I figure that if it wasn't Giffords, it could just as easily have been someone else (Democrat or Republican). People around him say that for the last two years ago he had been exhibiting rather erratic and disturbing behavior, and he never really got over the fact that when he asked a question at a town hall meeting held by Giffords, she didn't answer his question. These people around him say that may have pushed him over the edge to obsessively plan to harm her.
Obviously, this guy was alienated and never got the help he needed. But could that map (with the crosshairs) have made all the difference? I think Sarah Palin could be connected to the shooting, but only to the extent that J. D. Salinger is connected to the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan (i.e. not at all). (The would-be assassin carried in his pocket at the time of the attempt a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and was very much influenced by its ideas of angst, alienation, and revolution.) Sarah Palin surely didn't mean for people to physically harm politicians (though some people debate that given that many of her supporters brought unconcealed weapons to opposing politicians' rallies), but that map, like J. D. Salinger's book for the would-be Reagan assassin, may have given the shooter the "official endorsement" (only in his own mind) he needed to carry out the attack. In short, Sarah Palin isn't responsible; loonies will always be loonies.
In her response video, Sarah Palin accuses the people accusing her of inciting the shooting of "blood libel". (Note: I haven't actually watched the video, but I think I have a decent idea of what she says based on other articles written about it that quote parts of the video.) While I think it's honorable that she defends the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment to the Constitution and even talks about how Giffords was the one who read that a few days ago in Congress (when members of the House of Representatives were made to read selected passages from the Constitution), how she accuses the critics is pure Palin-style politics; she automatically assumes that the critics are just trying to score political points, and she still refuses to acknowledge that maybe — just maybe — the current political discourse needs to be toned down.
In summary: no, Palin is not responsible; yes, the guy was deranged and may have been influenced (in all the wrong ways) by that map; and yes, I think we can all benefit from cranking the political shouting down a few notches. John Stewart, I think we could all use another "Rally to Restore Sanity". (Cue Stephen Colbert's competing "March to Keep Fear Alive".)