Tea Party Rhetoric and the Arizona Shooting

In the aftermath of the shooting of Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords, in which at least a dozen people were shot and at least six have died, some commentators have placed at least some of the blame on what they see as extreme Tea Party rhetoric that has created political divisiveness.  Pima County, Ariz. Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said people like the gunman Jared Lee Loughner “are especially susceptible to vitriol.”

(I add, parenthetically, that news accounts are calling Loughner a “suspect” in the shooting, when after the shooting people took the gun away from him and held him for the police.  What kind of Orwellian use of language calls him the suspect, rather than the gunman?)

I’m not a Tea Partier, and I don’t listen to Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly (not that I have anything against them), but as far as I know, Sarah Palin, Fox News, and Tea Partiers have not called for any kind of violence, let alone gunning down people with whom they disagree.

What would be the point of gunning down elected officials, when they would just be replaced with others who have similar political views?

The point of the Tea Party, and others who engage in “the ‘vitriol’ that has infected political discourse,” has been to elect people who hold political views more in line with the words of the Constitution of the United States, to replace office holders who have been creating a government that intrudes even more into people’s personal and economic lives.

That shooting was a tragedy, to be sure, and I have yet to see anyone paint it any other way.  But I don’t see it as a signal that people who disagree with the direction our elected officials are taking our government should tone down their rhetoric.

In the past decade the federal government’s share of GDP has gone from 18.4% to 25%, and its regulatory intrusion in our lives has increased in similar fashion.  Those who believe that the moral and economic strength of this country rests on the productivity of the private sector of the economy should speak out against this massive expansion of government that threatens our prosperity and our way of life.

That Tea Party rhetoric is about using the electoral process to replace elected officials who favor big government with those who believe in smaller government and individual freedom.  I’m very uneasy with critics who argue that the Arizona shootings imply anything about toning down that rhetoric.  Looking at what has happened to our government in the past decade — and especially in the past two years — I’d argue that we need more of that rhetoric, not less.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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