The tragedy in Arizona this weekend has generated an ocean of comment on both sides of the border. In The New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote:
Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming overwhelmingly from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michelle Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the GOP.
In The Toronto Star, James Travers saw plenty of blame to go around: “In Ottawa as in Washington, the result is that abuse is now the common tongue of policy debate. Invective and vitriol are heaped on those who reach different conclusions.”
Rush Limbaugh attacked Sheriff Clarence Dupnick for fanning a left wing conspiracy aimed at shutting down free speech. And Sarah Palin’s spokeswoman — not Palin herself — suggested that the cross hairs on her electoral map were meant to be taken metaphorically, not literally. Both pundits deny any responsibility for what happened. And they are both right. Neither is legally culpable. The man with the gun is in custody.
But what both Limbaugh and Palin appear absolutely ignorant of is the truth which Abraham Lincoln felt in his very bone marrow — that words can be used as weapons; and that democracy works best when citizens are guided by their “better angels.” He stuck to that conviction throughout the Civil War. He said it best at his second inaugural:
With malice toward none; with charity toward all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who has done the battle, and for his widow and his orphan — to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves and with all nations.
It’s worth remembering that when invoking the name of the Creator, Lincoln never claimed that God was on his side. He did, however, hope that he was on God’s side. We suffer from the delusion that we are the instruments of righteousness. Certainly Limbaugh and Palin suffer from that disease. We need to find an antidote. We could start by practising a bit of humility.
Canada’s Owen Gray grew up in Montreal, where he received a B. A. from Concordia University. After crossing the border and completing a Master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, he returned to Canada, married, raised a family and taught high school for 32 years. Now retired, he lives — with his wife and youngest son — on the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This post is cross posted from his blog.