Stop pointing fingers: We’re all to blame here

Liberals are pointing the finger at conservatives, who are jabbing right back at liberals. Well, you’re the guys using crosshairs to point out your political hit lists. Oh, yeah, well, you did it back during the Bush years.

Both sides are missing the point. It’s not if one or the other side is wrong or right – it’s the tactics on both sides that need to change.

It’s been correctly pointed out to me that this is hardly the only time in American history that we’ve been this much at each other’s throats over the direction that we want our country to take. Our country was founded on a revolt; violence is indeed fundamental to the way that we’ve done our public business over the course of our couple hundred-plus years of being an entity. And internal tensions have obviously heated up from time to time, at least once to the point of civil war and at other times falling just short of actual armed rebellion.

The changing world environment of the past 20 years has us focused inward again, after a long period of at least some degree of internal unity during the Cold War. Absent an external threat, we turned inward in the 1990s, with that decade marked by the long-running effort of partisan Republicans to discredit Democrat Bill Clinton that ended with his impeachment. A brief move toward bipartisanship in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks turned political with the exploitation of the tragedy by neoconservatives to buttress their long-stated case for war in Iraq that didn’t go at all according to plan, on the battlefield or otherwise.

The Hate Bush movement of the far left gave way with the election of Barack Obama in 2008 to the birthers who have followed well in the footsteps of the Clinton detractors in their efforts to delegitimize the will of the voters. Both the Bush haters and the birthers and assorted hangers-on on both sides have been aided in their efforts by the omnipresence of media with three 24/7 cable-news networks and online news and blogs that have given unprecedented voice to the fringes on both sides.

It’s true, indeed, that this isn’t necessarily anything new in American history. Newspapers routinely took sides in the political debates at our founding and even fanned the flames of partisan discord for partisan and business advantage, a trend that continues of course to the present-day and will be with us for time immemorial. The claims of media bias by people on the two main sides of the political divide in America are not observations but talking points aiming at gaining an upper hand in the daily struggle for control of the present and near future of policymaking.

The danger in my mind is that Republican strategists have discovered that they can motivate a large segment of their political base by playing up virulently anti-government rhetoric that at its core depicts policy thrusts from Democrats as being effete anti-American socialists, and that Democratic strategists in response have found that they can play to their base by talking up Republicans as shadowy anti-American corporatists.

I have no idea at this point what we’ll ultimately learn was the motivation of the shooter who perpetrated the mass murder in Arizona over the weekend that clearly targeted Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. I fear that his success in getting attention to his world view could inspire copycats, and that the efforts that are already under way to prevent future attempts along the lines of what did will only fuel the perceptions that people on the two sides of the divide have about each other, by making it harder for us to keep in contact with each other to discuss what we disagree on and also what we agree on in the course of trying to achieve action on the issues of the day.

The worst thing that we could do is to say, Ah, this was just an isolated lone wolf, some crazy guy with a perverted agenda who just happened to get lucky to be able to do what he did, that the acidity that we all know is there in our political discourse had nothing to do with it.

This is a learning moment for us all. Emphasis on us all. Not just Republicans, but also Democrats.

No more pointing fingers. If all we get out of this is another shouting match, then that little 9-year-old girl born on 9/11 who went to see her congresswoman because she’d just been elected to her student council and wanted to learn more about democracy will have died utterly in vain.

Column by Chris Graham. More columns by Chris at

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