Letter: Vigorous debate vital to a free republic
I disagree strongly with your editorial, "Speaking the truth," about the tragedy in Arizona. You single out for praise Tucson Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik. Here is his statement: "I think it is time as a country we need to do a little soul searching because I think that the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from the people in the radio business and some people in the TV business … It may be free speech, but it does not come without consequences."
First, sheriff, it is free speech. Second, the tragedy had nothing to do with radio, TV or any opinion on any side of the political spectrum. This sad event should not be seen as an opportunity to express your political beliefs. The sheriff should have said something like this: "We are investigating thoroughly and as information becomes available, we will issue updates. Our aim is not only to bring the perpetrator or perpetrators to justice, but to prevent such tragedies in the future."
Politicians and commentators often use metaphor to emphasize points. They are not advocating violence toward anyone. President Obama has said: "hand-to-hand combat," "whose asses to kick," "if they bring a knife to a fight, we bring a gun." The First Amendment was designed to protect speech, nice and not so nice. A more insidious aspect to this is the ability of politicians and others to silence criticism by claiming those leveling it are "inciting violence, or creating an atmosphere of hate," thus avoiding a debate of the issues. Other variations of this are "Clinton haters, Swift boaters"—all variations of the blame-the-messenger tactic.
There seem to be similarities between this tragedy and the one at Virginia Tech. In both instances there were early signs of a potential threat. By studying these cases, it may be possible for authorities to intervene early to prevent these kinds of tragedies while, at the same time, protecting our liberties.
Our effort should be to stop a like event from happening again while, at the same time, protecting our right to disagree, even strongly, with each other. Strong opinions don’t incite violence, they incite thinking.
Your editorial goes through the known facts that his actions were not motivated by anyone on TV or talk radio. Then, amazingly, here is how you conclude: "A sage of olden days said, ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Strong words, taken up and broadcast and repeated and twisted and taken out of context, can incite unbalanced people into becoming killing machines. Words do have consequences. Sometimes they are deadly."
There is a fallacy in blaming others for the actions of this madman. The same kind of unthinking, emotional reaction came in the wake of the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Vigorous debate is vital to a free republic. Nobody but the perpetrator is responsible. If the object of this editorial was to educate and inform, you missed the target. Oops … sorry.
Port Haywood, Va.