Quigley: Overheated political rhetoric has consequences

Monday, January 10, 2011 at 10:05pm
By Lisa Quigley


In 2006, while my family was living abroad, I was involved with a group of politically minded Americans who were interested in the potential Republican-to-Democratic change in Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections. Knowing my background in politics, they asked me, "What can we do from afar?"

I advised that we should raise money for a House candidate whose victory was uncertain, but was key to winning the majority in the House. We picked Gabrielle Giffords: 35 years old, brilliant, charismatic, a businesswoman. She was also a third-generation Arizonan with deep roots in the state. She was a bilingual, motorcycle-riding, gun-rights supporter who just happened to be dating an astronaut. She was, in our view, what rising stars look like. 

We had a fundraiser for her in my apartment and raised $5,000 — not a huge sum, but it was unexpected by the campaign, and as any political operative knows, an unexpected $5,000 is appreciated and remembered. Giffords called our party to give her thanks, and she charmed everyone with her wit and intellect, which was in evidence even over a Skype connection. 

Although running in a conservative district, she won that year, and the House came under Democratic control. Giffords won again in 2008, and she went on to support President Obama's key legislative priorities — including health care reform — despite the vocal opponents in her district and the subsequent vandalism to her district office last year. When asked if she was afraid, she said, "no” before warning that the rhetoric being deployed in the name of political discourse could have “consequences.” No kidding.

This election season, Giffords had to wait a week for the result, as her race was close. Her opponent was a "Tea Party" candidate who came very close to beating her. I talked with her at length in November at a gathering of Blue Dog Democrats, whose ranks had just been reduced by half. She was, as usual, warm, open, eager to get back to work, and anticipating spending time with her family over the holidays. She was headed to the Vatican.

The excellent work of first responders, brilliant doctors and the prayers of millions will hopefully save her life after the assassination attempt this weekend in Tucson. The last time a member of the U.S. Congress was assassinated on American soil was Sen. Robert Kennedy in 1968, when he was a candidate for president. Members of Congress lose elections, are driven from office by scandal, and they die in plane crashes. But they are rarely assassinated. The events of this weekend in Tucson have punctured the veil of safety assumed by most members of Congress. Only in countries where the rule of law is still a shadowy goal are assassinations of public officials accepted as a presumed risk.

Yes, one deranged individual shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, killing innocent civilians and wounding many others. But we should be very skeptical of the push-back from conservative media voices that emphasize the "lone gunman" storyline. Conservative talk radio, Fox News and Sarah Palin's completely irresponsible targeting of races last election cycle — complete with visual "crosshairs" through a rifle scope — is the environment where unstable people are encouraged. Those “news sources” and political “leaders” are provocative and entertaining to some. But they provide aid and comfort to others, like the mentally ill man who snuffed out the lives of fellow Americans in a Safeway parking lot on Saturday.

Overheated political rhetoric does indeed have consequences. Our nation lost an esteemed federal judge, a congressional aide, a 9-year-old girl who just wanted to meet her congresswoman, and other ordinary Americans who were going about their day. And while we wait and pray on news of Gabby Giffords — a brilliant woman, wife, stepmother, friend and dedicated public servant — I wonder: Will the volume and the nature of modern political discourse change? How many other rising stars have to be extinguished before the rhetoric and the vitriol is condemned rather than rewarded?

We are Americans. We are better than this. It would be wrong to blame all conservatives for the actions of one crazy guy. Liberals have plenty of irresponsible voices of their own. But it would also be wrong to stand by and allow dangerous rhetoric to define our political culture. Rising stars don’t come around that often.


Lisa Quigley is chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-TN

18 Comments on this post:

By: Loner on 1/11/11 at 7:18

This is a very well-written letter and it expresses views and opinions that many of us share at this time.

The question remains, is this the beginning of a general descent into more rancor and political violence, or will the voices of cool reason prevail?

I have been tuning in to the various right-wing media outlets, they are not at all penitent, but incensed over the accusations that their vicious demagoguery may have somehow been a factor in the Tucson massacre. No visible or audible remorse.

The right-wingers are circling their wagons around Ms. Palin et al.; they blame this on a "Lunatic Leftist"....as if catchy alliteration and punditry will help to shift the blame to the Left.

The left-wingers may have to counter that catchy phrase with one of their own, in order to properly identify the Tucson shooter. I suggest: "Re-loading Rightie", and/or "Pistol-Packin' Palinist".

But seriously, this should be a time for national healing, not more divisive name-calling. It's time to cool it.

Again, great letter!

By: Loner on 1/11/11 at 7:35

Actually, the phrase suggested by the Tea Party pundits, to identify the Tucson gunman, is "Liberal Lunatic", not "Lunatic Leftist". Judson Phillips of the Tea Party Nation coined the term, "Liberal Lunatic". If "Lunatic Leftist" gets more media play, I know who to blame.

By: budlight on 1/11/11 at 8:17

The divisive conversation started at the TOP. Obama has said some pretty mean comments and he is constantly playing the race card. So call your Prez. and tell him to "cool it". He stirs the pot with his dictatorship-like rule in the seat as President. I don't like him, but he's not worth giving up my life for. The Liberal Lunatic phrase fits the shooter and many who side with Obama. MY opinioin is that Obama needs to cool it.

By: budlight on 1/11/11 at 8:18

And so does the ACLU; no crosses on military graves? That's a crime. Or should be.

By: yogiman on 1/11/11 at 8:19


I agree with you on the letter bt Lisa Quigley being well written, but it brings a question to my thoughts. She made the comment about the "completely irresponsible targeting" of Fox News and Sarah Palin's "races last election cycle - complete with visual "crosshairs" through a rifle scope - is the environment where unstable people are encouraged."

Did Ms. Quigley know beforehand such an incident was going to happen? If so, Why didn't she issue a warning it was going to happen?

It is well known politicians will pull any stunt they feel will encourage people to vote for them, and as has happened before,and will happen in the future, such incidents will happen.

If you have a fear of it, do not run for a political office.

By: Captain Nemo on 1/11/11 at 8:47

Our two right-wing fringe nut-jobs are indeed circling the Queen Bee, protecting their darling from the spotlight. Now with all of her lock and load comments the world begins to see her for what she is a charlatan and opportunist raking in the money from the dupes.

By: budlight on 1/11/11 at 9:35

When I set my "sights" on a goal, it can mean that my heart is set on achieving the goal, or that I have my mind set on it. Using the term "sight" does not always refer to a gun sight, but left wing fringe nut cakes can't differentiate. The English language is confusing to the uneducated with closed minds.

Capt. if you get the chance, are you gonna rake in your money from the dupes? You bet 'cha! Why don't you give away all your worldly possessions and forward your check to charity? Cause you're selfish? Probably not. Probably cause you're human. Last time I looked sarah palin is human.

By the way, who shot Lennon? Regan? Were they fueled by the likes of Palin? Or some Democrat? Or just plain insanity?

By: Captain Nemo on 1/11/11 at 9:45

Capt. if you get the chance, are you gonna rake in your money from the dupes? You bet 'cha!

Are you telling that you are a dupe?

By: bfra on 1/11/11 at 9:53

Bud dupe - When you have "visual "crosshairs" through a rifle scope, what do you think sight is means?

By: Captain Nemo on 1/11/11 at 10:53

If someone was to put the crosshairs on Palin, what would bud say?

By: bfra on 1/11/11 at 11:00

Nemo - I really don't think bud knows what crosshairs are!

By: Captain Nemo on 1/11/11 at 11:02

lol Good point. What can she see under the bridge?

By: Captain Nemo on 1/11/11 at 11:04

See you, I am going to venture out. My company is calling for help. I am going to see what it is like before I call in.

By: stlgtr55@yahoo.com on 1/11/11 at 12:38

Each and every one of us has the responsibility to know Right from Wrong. This is one of the things killing our society. Murdering people is WRONG. It doesn't matter what anyone else said or didn't say. This person committed a crime against our society, and mankind in general. If he was that unstable, his parents should have taken measures to keep him from committing such a despicable act. While we're at it, can we blame Al Gore, and his constituents, for some of the terrible things Earth First has done to people? Can we blame Rap Music lyrics for people killing cops? Events similar to this were happening long before Talk Radio, Fox News, Sarah Palin, or anyone like that even existed. How many wars and atrocities have been committed in the name of Religion? If Stalin or Hitler were alive today, and doing what they did to people, someone would want to blame some other entity for it.

By: budlight on 1/11/11 at 2:38

sight hairs in an ad or some other form still means "set your sights" on a goal. Palin never meant to "literally" aim a gun.

You wackos are the only ones who interpreted it that way? Answer my question? Who shot Lennon? Who shot Reagan? Surely you don't think that Palin invented shotting people inappropriately or else Lennon would be alive.

Guns don't kill. People who use guns kill. Besides that: Obama said "if they bring their knives, we'll bring our guns"> Who did he incite? Maybe this guy who shot a 9-year old child?

By: yogiman on 1/11/11 at 2:40


Shame on you. Why are you trying to equate budlight into your mental capacity? Because you think she is mentally so superior and you want to be like her?

By: bfra on 1/11/11 at 2:43

sidiot - What are "sight hairs"? Never heard of anyone shotting somebody! Tis a smart fellow that "doesn't" bring a knife to face someone with a gun.

By: budlight on 1/11/11 at 2:44

This was said by OBAMA in 2008 - look it up you Lt. Nemo: "Amy Chozick reports on the presidential race from Philadelphia.

Mobster wisdom tells us never to bring a knife to a gun fight. But what does political wisdom say about bringing a gun to a knife fight?
That’s exactly what Barack Obama said he would do to counter Republican attacks “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” Obama said at a Philadelphia fundraiser Friday night. “Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl. I’ve seen Eagles fans.” Sen. Barack Obama talks at a town hall meeting at Radnor Middle School in Wayne, Pa., Saturday, June 14. (AP)The comment drew some laughs and applause. But it also struck a chord with his Republican rival. John McCain’s campaign immediately accused the Democratic candidate of playing the politics of fear. They also mentioned that Obama said he would use a gun that would be illegal under Obama’s plans to cut down on illegal firearms.

So Obama can "bring a gun to a fight" without you left wing wacko's getting your panties in a wad, but no one else can. Booo hooo hooo hooo! I'm crying over your lack of intelligence Lt. Nemo. NO, you're demoted to PFC nemo. You're not WISE enough to make Lt., let alone Capt.

You speak with forked tongue as they say in the Cherokee Nation.