Tucson shootings don't quell debate over political rhetoric

Jared Loughner, accused of trying to assassinate a Congresswoman and killing six others, appeared in court Monday. It was the nation's first look at the 22-year-old loner accused of trying to assassinate Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 11, 2011; 12:33 AM

Across the ideological spectrum, officials and activists agreed after Saturday's Tucson killings that it was time to soften the harsh edges of America's raucous national dialogue.

But by Monday, a bitter debate had erupted over how to do it - and on whose terms.

On the right, former House speaker Newt Gingrich lashed out at liberals who have blamed the shooting rampage in part on tea-party-inspired anger, arguing these same liberals "cannot bring themselves" to draw connections between accused terrorists and "radical Islam ideology."

Rush Limbaugh accused Democrats of "rubbing their hands together" in anticipation of using the shootings as a political revitalization.

Glenn Beck reminded his radio listeners that there are "nut jobs on all sides."

Some on the left, meanwhile, continued to look for political links to Saturday's shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), noting that Giffords had been the subject of threats because of her support for President Obama's health-care overhaul and her opposition to Arizona's tough anti-illegal-immigration law.

Pima County Sheriff Charles W. Dupnik, a Democrat and political ally of Giffords's who began citing the role of political anger within hours of the shooting, took his comments a step further into partisan terrain Monday.

Dupnik told a Fox News interviewer that he sees "one party trying to block the attempts of another party to make this a better country."

And in a separate interview he went directly after Limbaugh.

"The kind of rhetoric that flows from people like Rush Limbaugh, in my judgment he is irresponsible, uses partial information, sometimes wrong information," Dupnik told ABC News's Diane Sawyer. "[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials, and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences."

The sharp exchanges came even as Obama and lawmakers in both parties observed a moment of silence to mourn the victims of Saturday's attack. The contrast illustrated the depths of the ideological and cultural conflicts dividing the country.

Even a gesture intended to bring Americans together did little to quiet the disputes over what lessons, if any, should be taken from the violence in Tucson. Monday seemed to mark an escalation by political adversaries to claim the mantle of decency and escape blame for caustic rhetoric.

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