Reading and hearing about the shootings in Tucson, Arizona I am more and more struck by the awful ironies of this tragic event. That Gabrielle Giffords should be a pro-gun Democrat is strange enough, but the fact that her life has been saved by a trauma surgeon just back from Iraq, whose skills have been learned in the heat of the war, makes it ironic.
Add to that the fact that the 9 year old girl who died was born on September 11 2001 and you have a indictment of the past decade of American politics wrapped up in one neatly symbolic bundle.
And what makes it sadder is that many of the lessons do not seem to be being learned. Sarah Palin, fresh from a PR meltdown and condemnation for her crosshairs chart aiming at prominent Democrats, has landed herself in further hot water by accusing the critics who accused her of stirring up the situation that lead to the shooting of blood libel. Bearing in mind that Giffords is Jewish and Palin avowedly Christian, it is just the sort of inflammatory language the situation didn’t need.
Emotional language is all the rage in America in the wake of the funeral (a TV event no less), but there are better ways of using it. Take Obama’s statement that he intends to be the healer in chief as a prime example. His language is carefully moderated and guaranteed to pour oil on troubled waters, conjuring visions of the people who died as part of a tableaux of American life and the tragedy of the loss, telling the American people “we can be better”.
Unless more violence is at the heart of the American right’s long term aims, the shadowy PRs behind people like Palin need to make sure the language and symbolism she and other right wing politicians and commentators use is toned down. They have all this money behind them, casting out for good advice, and yet they seem to have missed out on the fact that a calming soundbite is all important, now especially.
They need to look at the symbolism, the nature of the language they are using. If they don’t, they will either talk themselves right out of power or the USA into a period of escalated interior violence that would unsettle the world.