Spoken word holds dangerous sway
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 14:01
In the wake of the shootings in Tucson recently, I remember hearing on the radio that Representative Gabrielle Giffords said prior to the attack that because of the political rhetoric and events of late, she had become increasingly worried about her safety and that of other congressional leaders.
In particular, she discussed, after her office had been vandalized last year, the actions of Sarah Palin, who used gun crosshairs over her district showing that Representative Giffords was in "her sights."
Gun crosshairs. On a democratically elected official. And she had kept them on Giffords' district until the Democratic Representative was shot while trying to hold a meeting to get to know her constituents.
Thomas Hobbes, in his book Leviathan, claimed "the most noble and profitable invention of all other was that of speech, consisting of names or appellations, and their connexion; whereby men register their thoughts, recall them when they are past, and also declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation."
Although not a fan of Hobbesian political philosophy, I will admit that there is a certain truth to this statement. Language, and the way we use language, is a very powerful tool.
As citizens, we should be aware of the type of language we use, even when we are in disagreement with one another, but more importantly, our political leaders should be acutely aware of the type of language they choose to employ; especially when in disagreement.
When one becomes an admired public figure, there is a certain responsibility that comes with the fame. People tend to look up to our political figures; we project our hopes and dreams onto them, and when they speak, we listen.
Voter turnout for presidential elections far exceeds the turnouts for congressional elections nationally, because we feel more passionately about the president than the Congress.
The president not only becomes our head of government, but also our head of state, which in turn makes him our representative to the entire world.
When President Obama speaks, even those that are against him politically, listen. The same goes for many others in the spotlight, for better or for worse.
Palin has an enormous amount of power that she wields when she speaks to Tea Partiers, and whether she intended to do so or not, she has become their figurehead.
As a leader, Palin should realize that what she says and does affects both herself and others.
Phrases like "Kill the bill" and "Don't retreat, reload" brings thoughts of violence, even if most of us are balanced and mature enough to not act upon them.
Herein lies the problem. Her words do not discriminate on whose ears they fall upon, and although most people will simply resort to protest and the voting booth, Palin needs to know that not everyone receiving the message may be of sound mind. She should take caution on the words that she chooses, because they could have a profoundly negative effect.
I'm not blaming Palin's political rhetoric for the shooting of Representative Giffords entirely. Jared Loughner is an extremely troubled man, who should have never been able to get his hands on a weapon with such a high capacity magazine like he did, but I do believe that there is partial blame to be shared.
Leaders on both sides of the aisle should realize the power of their words and the profound effect it has on people, and next time, instead of choosing a threatening phrase or gesture that might scrape out a few more fanatic voters, take the high road and keep the rhetoric on a civil level.
People are smart, and if you're a good politician, the people will understand the point you're trying to get across. The need for wartime phrases and gestures would not, and should not, be used.