Where’s the centre?

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

“The Second Coming”
by William Butler Yeats

Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, which killed six people, wounded 14, and left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition, makes it very difficult not to draw conclusions from little information. It is, after all, the job of an editorial writer to think about events, search for answers and call for action.

Though Tucson is 862 miles from here, the wave the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, rode seemed in a way to begin here, travel to the nation’s borders, and reflect back upon us.

The shooting also relates, in a way, to our cover story, in which the tenor of political rhetoric has gotten so strident that the best among us won’t even participate in the political process. Yes, it’s true that Bill Raggio has a physical problem that would make walking the halls of the Legislature difficult, but there are many who know the man who believe—had he been treated with the respect he deserved and remained Senate leader—that he could have led bipartisan negotiations from a wheelchair, if necessary.

But in these days of partisan politics, where the internet has allowed an ever-increasing crescendo of vitriol, reflecting sound waves in an echo chamber of hatred, the worst things said a decade or two ago have become the mean average. It appears that to get your blog read, pick up friends on your Facebook account, or get your post passed along to the next extremist, you have to use ever more inflammatory words like “Second Amendment remedies.”

But it’s not the extremist nutjobs who spur the violence and lack of civility, not really, anyway. It’s the rich density of over-the-top rhetoric that is harmful. It wasn’t that long ago, if a deranged individual was looking for kindred spirits, he’d flip through an address book and maybe find two people. Now, google “second amendment remedies” and 71,600 links pop up. Instantly.

When vast numbers of people seem to sympathize with a person’s peculiar insanity, or are willing to excuse it, the unhinged individual can see him or herself as the leader of a movement—particularly when he or she can look to “legitimate” political figures for examples, like putting targets on images of political rivals or using irresponsible and inflammatory phrases like “Second Amendment remedies.”

It’s not hard to imagine why reasonable people who are more into solutions than partisan good-versus-evil, win-or-lose politics are dropping out of public service like passenger pigeons that fell from the sky.

The rhetoric that inspires madmen to pick up guns and vaunted statesmen to resign their positions needs to be identified and disavowed. And those who use it for fundraising should be ashamed.