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I, Virginia Bergman, pledge not to vote for a male presidential candidate in 2016 just because he's male.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

“Politics has always been based on fear”

U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords with her husband NASA astronaut Mark Kelly in an undated handout photo
The language in our culture since 9/11 has become increasingly violent. I noticed this a few minutes after my co-workers and I watched the Twin Towers go down on a conference room television. As I stepped out in the corridor, a company vice president strode toward me. Without pausing, he said, “We’ve got to hunt them down and kill them.”

Almost any newscast from Afghanistan in the past few years has featured an interview with an American military leader boasting about the number of Taliban his troops have killed. Whatever happened to the practice of taking prisoners?

The word “kill” is now commonplace in our national discourse.

The Tucson massacre has triggered a much-needed discussion on the lack of civility in politics and the media. Gail Russell Chaddock, a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor, offers a thoughtful perspective on what it might take to bring about a positive change in the language and tone we use to converse with one another on the air and elsewhere.

Saturday’s mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., reset the political clock on Capitol Hill Monday, as Congress swept aside the legislative agenda out of respect for those killed or injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona and her aide, Gabriel Zimmerman.

The motive for the mass shooting in Tucson is not clear, but that hasn’t stopped speculation about what is to blame or how tragedy can be averted in the future.

The most frequent comment on Capitol Hill – short of ubiquitous calls to exercise prudence – is to tone down the toxic rhetoric, especially gun-infused metaphors.

RELATED – Arizona shooting: Seven times politics turned to threats or violence last year

But critics acknowledge that it will take more than just members of Congress altering their tough-talking ways to change the overall culture. Political consultants, fundraisers, the news media are all also addicted to tough talk – and for the same reason, it sells.

“This is a deep cultural style of political expression that has developed over 30 years, and it’s not going to be changed overnight,” says former House historian Raymond Smock, who led a staff discussion Monday on the issue at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

“Politics has always been based on fear … keeping people mad, keeping people on the ragged edge,” he adds. “Every once in a while we get sensitized again, but it’s hard to change.”

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