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January 11, 2011

Invective Takes Toll

Roy Meachum

The furious ranting cited in Friday’s column (“Less Perfect Union,” January 7, 2011) claimed blood Saturday in the savage wounding of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The state’s highest ranking federal judge, John Roll, and five others were killed.


Nine-year-old Christina Green was among the fatalities; her birth occurred on another day of tragedy September 11, 2001, when terrorists killed nearly 3,000, in New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a farm field in Pennsylvania.


The day before the latest national tragedy, my commentary lamented the current vicious verbal violence and forecast even worse must follow. The first years of the republic rapidly grew accustomed to defamatory attacks. Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father who was the foremost apologist for a free press, grew weary of his opponents’ printed vitriol long before he departed the White House for Monticello.


Abraham Lincoln’s newspaper depictions often contained no hint of the frequently described “most respected president.” His actor-assassin acted on behalf of his fellow seekers of revenge, who blamed the Great Emancipator for the loss of the war they started. Still the 19th Century public dialogue lacked the personal vilification.


James Garfield – along with the 20th Century’s John F. Kennedy – was slain by a mentally imbalanced man. William McKinley died at the hands of an avowed anarchist. In each situation, there was a lack of the fierce public rantings, from any direction. For each president, Republican or Democratic, the opposing party dedicated itself to pushing him out of the Oval Office.


The present buzz is completely different.


When word reached of the attack on the Arizona Democrat, from an earlier unrelated story on banning a Mexican American history course, I naturally thought the attempted congressional assassination must have to do with immigration. But, no. Gabrielle Giffords Kelly, married to astronaut Mark Kelly, supported her constituents who wanted the border sealed against illegal trespassers who sought to sneak into this country – the current “hot” issue in Arizona.


It turned out, like Lee Harvey Oswald and Charles Guiteau; Jared Lee Loughner had no clear motive that could be ascertained quickly. It’s safe to say politics had little to do with Saturday’s tragedy. The 22-year-old came with a history of eccentricities and erratic behavior; I tend to think the young man was a waiting match ignited by today’s ambience of verbal violence.


As in Friday column, I still think the brimming revolution stems from the great disparity in incomes among Americans. A Great Depression song’s lyrics stated “the rich get richer, the poor get children” that must be supported by their lesser and lesser pay.


The words of the tune capture my fear for my nation and the world, which caused me to end my last piece:


“My poor America.”


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