by Abby Margolis Newman
My kids are no strangers to political rallies. They have met John Kerry and John Edwards, and have accompanied me to protests against the Iraq War. I have a picture of my middle son, Aaron, from a local newspaper in 2004: he is sitting on my husband's shoulders, holding a handmade "Down with Bush! Go Kerry!" sign.
Aaron was nine at the time. I couldn't help but think about this when I heard about the shooting last weekend in Tucson, and the horrible fact that among the six dead is a nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who was there to meet Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Christina was a third-grader who had recently been elected to her student council. Rep. Giffords was shot in the head, and is facing a long and difficult recovery in a Tucson hospital.
I recently wrote a column bemoaning the lack of civility in American politics  and how it seems to have gotten to a point of crisis since the election of President Obama. Yes, there has always been vitriol in politics, but unless one is in utter denial, one cannot ignore the fact that - beginning with the 2008 election cycle (with people shouting "Kill Obama!" at Sarah Palin rallies) and continuing through the fight over healthcare (characterized by town-hall style meetings overrun by screaming, red-faced "Tea Party" folk who were there simply to disrupt and intimidate), our political climate and rhetoric has gotten much, much worse.
I will be honest here: I am someone who believes, with all my heart, that George W. Bush was the worst president in modern history. He took office at a time of peace and prosperity and job creation, and got us mired in two (illegal, undeclared) wars; wrecked our economy, turning surpluses into huge deficits (in part by giving giant tax cuts to the already-rich); and by the last year of Bush's presidency, our country was bleeding 700,000 jobs per month.
The vast majority of those who, like me, vehemently disagreed with almost every move Bush made did not threaten violence against him. We did not carry guns to rallies. We did not go to town hall meetings with the sole intent of creating rude, disruptive anarchy. We did not throw rocks through windows of Congressional offices (as happened to several Democrats during the healthcare debate), nor did we spit on them and use offensive racial slurs or threats (as experienced by Democratic Representatives John Lewis of Georgia and James Clyburn of South Carolina, both African-American).
We did not - as Sarah Palin did - put a U.S. map on a website with gun-target cross hairs over the districts of certain candidates (including Ms. Giffords's), implying that those people needed to be "taken out" in the election of 2010.
Why did Republican political leaders not step forward to condemn this clearly dangerous trend? While all this was happening, the Republicans and conservatives in high-profile roles in politics and in the media were silent - and their silence created an impression of complicity.
The idea being promoted by the "mainstream" media after this latest shooting - the idea that both sides are equally responsible for our poisonous political climate - is simply not true. The false left-right equivalency being put forth is not supported by facts. Democrats and "the left" are not stoking fear and divisiveness and violence at public events and on public airwaves - or in public policy. If Al Gore had been president on September 11, 2001, we would not have gone into Iraq. We would not have started a war with a country that did not attack us. It is generally Republicans who boast 100% approval ratings from the National Rifle Association - an organization that has crushed politicians who have sought even the meekest form of gun control - and it was George W. Bush along with a Republican Congress who failed to renew a ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.
So can we please let go of this fantasy that the horrific, vile, violent rhetoric and threatening behavior against public officials is the equal responsibility of "both sides"? It isn't.
This lack of equity is perfectly illustrated by looking at two responses to the Tucson massacre: one by President Obama, and one by Sarah Palin.
Sarah Palin released a video message a few days after the shooting in which she came across as testy and defensive. Rather than condemning the hateful language that permeates politics or acknowledging her own part (e.g. her gun-target map) in creating a climate of violence, Palin criticized those who have exposed and reported on the rhetoric and who have suggested it may actually influence people's behavior - that there are real-life consequences to irresponsible language such as she herself has used. She thoughtlessly accused journalists of "blood libel" (a centuries-old term which is offensive to many Jews) and as The New York Times reported, "It was unclear whether Ms. Palin was aware of the historical meaning of the phrase."
Several hours later, Obama spoke in Tucson at a memorial service for all the victims of the mass shooting. He was gracious and apolitical as he urged Americans to be compassionate and loving - asking us all to set an example for Christina Taylor Green, to help create a country and a political atmosphere in which Christina would have been proud to participate. "If. . . their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy - it did not - but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation," he said. "I want us to live up to [Christina's] expectations. . . I want America to be as good as she imagined it."
This is what a President is supposed to do - be the bigger person, be above the fray, speak for all of us at a time of national tragedy, bring us together. Sarah Palin's petty anger and divisiveness - the smallness of her nature and her refusal to take responsibility for her own heedless actions - shows us exactly how unfit she is for any elected office.