01/15/11 — The tough part: America is about free speech, not witch hunts

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The tough part: America is about free speech, not witch hunts


That is what anyone who loves America and what she stands for should say to anyone who suggests that political discourse -- or the choice of words by one candidate -- had anything to do with last weekend's tragedy in Arizona.

And they should say the same thing to those who are on their free speech chargers now because someone suggested that perhaps we could be a little more respectful to different viewpoints and a little less aggressive in our disagreements.

Last week's shooting of a congresswoman and 18 other people was the work of a deranged nut case, period.

No political speech, no target graphic or anything else like that spurred this horrible event. This is mental illness by its very definition. To suggest otherwise is, in a word, irresponsible.

So all those who are capitalizing on using this occasion to connect this incident to a statement made by Sarah Palin, or any Tea Party candidate, that suggests a "gun" or "battle" reference, should be roundly condemned themselves. Especially, if the same criticism is not levied at those from the other side who have made similarly toned references about conservatives and others over the last couple of years.

Palin was not calling for anyone to shoot anyone. It was hyperbole, and the phraseology is common in political and campaign rhetoric. It is not a call to arms or a charge to incite violent takeover.

Those who suggest otherwise should have their commentators' cards taken away immediately. They have been in Washington much too long.

Freedom is not easy. Being able to speak freely ourselves means we have to listen to others have their say -- even if we violently disagree, even if we find what they say distasteful. That is how it works in a free society.

So we have to tolerate those who have other views and respect their right to have their say.

And if we believe what our Constitution and Bill of Rights say, we should be determined to protect anyone's right to speak, passionately, about any subject.

If this tragedy turns into a chance for one party to make political hay and to start discussions about control of free speech -- in any form -- we should reject those calls immediately as an affront to what we are supposed to be all about.

But we should also think about the vitriol -- the aggressive, vehement attacks that are the fodder for those whose only means of argument are attacks. We should point out that there are people who can disagree without calling names or hurling insults. We can respect those whose call to arms might be change -- however they see it -- but also includes respect for the other side's point of view.

Maybe we need to step back a bit and tone down what we call each other -- if not out of respect for one another's views, then as an example for our children that people can disagree without hating each other.

The Arizona tragedy will bring this country together -- just like others have in years past -- as long as we do not let those with other agendas determine the direction the discussion takes.

True patriots know that they set the direction their country and their government take -- and they are not going to sit by and let Washington politics take over the discourse in their community or their nation.

They will make sure that the choices that are made are reasonable, reasoned and responsible.

They will do so at the ballot box, not in a street fight, no matter which side they are on.

The United States should strive for bigger, better. We should be an example of how a nation can be so diverse, yet so united.

We should strive for responsible discourse in a free society. There is nothing wrong with remembering the lessons our parents taught us about respect.

We should realize that our vision -- no matter which side of the aisle we are on -- is for a better world for our children and grandchildren.

Perhaps it is time to step back and remember that it does matter how we get there.

Published in Editorials on January 15, 2011 11:13 PM