Will the Arizona shootings soften the political rhetoric?

Words have helped raise armies, defeat the Nazis and pass civil rights. But they can also tear a nation apart. Will the Arizona shootings focus the nation on the vitriol that has dominated the political discourse?

Last summer, while eating breakfast at a Montana diner, I witnessed a conversation between a local photojournalist and a group of fellow sport pilots. The pilots, all successful entrepreneurs, were in town on a mountain flying trip. Most of the talk reveled in the glories of grass air strips.

As the pancakes arrived and the coffee flowed, the conversation turned to politics and their hatred of the president.

“Larry tells us that he covered Obama when he came to town,” said a local gun store dealer, referring to the newspaper photographer and pilot sitting next to him. “You’re telling me that you were that close, and you didn’t take a clean shot?” said another pilot. “You could have all done us a big favor.”

Everyone laughed heartily before the conversation turned to taxes, “Obamacare,” and their belief that the U.S. president had a secret agenda to rob Americans of their freedom.

This week’s shooting in Arizona has concentrated media attention on the violent takeover of our political discourse. Political leaders and cable talk show hosts ranging from Glenn Beck of Fox News to MSNBC’s Ed Shultz seem to delight in pushing the margins of acceptable discourse.

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