Sarah Palin has come under fire for her political rhetoric following the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was targeted in an infographic that appeared on Palin’s website in 2010.
A mentally unstable man identified as Jared Lee Loughner opened fire on Giffords and the crowd in front of a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. Six people died, including a nine-year-old girl, and federal judge John Roll.
Giffords is continuing to heal. She spoke for the first time on Feb. 9.
Afterwards, Palin came under fire for the violent imagery in her ads and public statements. In fact, Palin’s 2010 “Take Back the 20” infographic, featured on her Facebook, Twitter and personal website, showed crosshairs over 20 congressional districts, including that of Giffords. The caption read: “It’s time to take a stand.”
The debate over whether or not such imagery influenced Loughner has been fierce. Eli Chanoff (’13) thinks it is ridiculous to blame Palin for the Arizona shootings. “As aggressive and suggestive as her campaign tactics may have been, the fact of the matter is that Loughner is mentally unstable,” he said.
Others say Loughner’s mental instability made him an easy target for the ads and the culture of political extremism. Violent imagery “causes a political climate that promotes violence,” said Eli Melrod (’13).
But in a Jan. 17 appearance on television commentator Sean Hannity’s show, Palin indicated that strong words will remain part of her rhetoric. “Certainly I agree with the idea of being civil,” Palin told Hannity. “But we should not use an event like that in Arizona to stifle debate.”
Gun imagery has been a large part of Palin’s ongoing Internet presence. A tweet on March 23 read “Commonsense Conservatives & Lovers of America: ‘Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!’”
Hours after the shooting, however, Palin deleted the “Take back the 20” website and removed many tweets with violent imagery from her Twitter account.
Urban history teacher Clarke Weatherspoon thinks that Palin’s aggressive campaign tactics are forcing the party “not even to the right, but just to the margins of society.”
But others don’t believe that the shootings will affect Palin’s career. “I doubt that people who support her and have supported her, like in the last election, will really change their minds about her,” said Canada Choate (’13).
Whatever the impact, many worry about the violent nature of political discourse. For San Franciscans, the Tucson shootings brought back memories of the 1978 assassination of Supervisor Harvey Milk along with Mayor George Moscone at City Hall.
Weatherspoon, who taught a 2008 class at Urban that tracked the McCain-Obama political campaign, says “(the political rhetoric) has been increasingly violent since probably 9/11 … because it’s been really polarized since then.
“Going even further, and looking at the war in Iraq and looking at the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections … things have been increasingly polarized and increasingly militant in terms of the language and the metaphors that have been used,” Weatherspoon said.