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Demonizing policy 

GIFFORDS: Her shooting could've happened in the South.
  • GIFFORDS: Her shooting could've happened in the South.

The second impulse, after horror, at the assassinations in Arizona had to be, in most places, "Thank goodness it was out there and not here."

It could have been, you know. There is a reason that the president of the United States has not set foot in much of the South, either when he was campaigning or last year when he and his Cabinet were stumping the country promoting economic stimulus projects and health-insurance reform. It had nothing to do with blue states and red states.

I remember the relief in November 1963 that it was Dallas that incurred the everlasting infamy of a presidential assassination and not Arkansas, where the president had been the previous month to dedicate a dam on the Little Red River, and the shame when it was reported that children in Arkansas classrooms had cheered when they were told that John F. Kennedy had been shot. Unlike Barack Obama, Kennedy had actually stuck a toe across the state line into Arkansas during the 1960 campaign (and carried the state, too) though many believed that the Kennedys were the sinister agents of Rome and socialists to boot.

It may have been more than coincidence that the sick young man who fired 31 shots at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, her aides, a Republican federal judge and a dozen constituents, was at an Arizona supermarket and not somewhere across the Southern region or even the working burbs of Pennsylvania, where murderous taunts were heard in the 2008 campaign. After all, there are not many places in America besides Arizona quite yet where a young man could buy a semi-automatic Glock pistol without a check and then freely and even with official blessings tote it to a political event in a shopping mall. We were headed there in Arkansas but, one hopes, not now.

But the demonizing and "eliminationist" rhetoric, as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman calls it, that makes the unhinged imagine that killing a public official is a brave and patriotic deed is not endemic only to the tombstone state. It is everywhere, on cable news and Facebook, in your e-mails and newspaper letters and occasionally it rings from the halls of Congress.

It is not bitter partisanship, heated debate or even popular anger, which are robust features of democracy. Quieter, sweeter disagreements over public policy are not the answer, although a little less lying would help.

What is different about the current climate, though it is not new in our history, is the demonization of policy differences. The other side is not just wrongheaded or even stupid, but evil. Their ideas are not merely ill-suited for economic prosperity. They are out to bring harm to the country, destroy its institutions and deliver us to alien forces: the communists, Muslims, terrorists, atheists or, as may have been the case with the Arizona crazy, some sort of monetary cartel.

GIFFORDS: Her shooting could've happened in the South.

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