Anyway, the other night I was tossing and turning and it finally crossed my mind what bothered me most about the reactions to Tucson. In case you've missed it, here is the controversial "Re-Load" graphic used by Sarah Palin's PAC during last year's campaign season:
I said at the time that I thought it was actually a fairly clever bit of wording on her part, given that her power base clearly includes the National Rifle Association and other firearm enthusiasts. I also feared that it was unnecessarily risky. To be fair, I'm not convinced that there is a causal relationship between this specific graphic and the heinous act of violence perpetrated last weekend. It seems to me that Jared Lee Loughner is one of those individuals hard-wired the wrong way who was likely to fixate on something regardless of what anyone else said or did.
Consider this, though. If the prosecution were to find a similar graphic had been created by Loughner, that would be key evidence against him. Indeed, if any of us were to post a list of names--regardless of whose--with gun targets and "re-load" rhetoric, we'd be investigated and rightly so. Take this image out of the context of originating with a political campaign and what you have is a very dubious and threatening image that would not set well with law enforcement officials. (I don't advise anyone to try to prove or disprove this claim of mine, incidentally.)
I realize that Governor Palin has a legitimate claim that her metaphor may have been misconstrued by a clearly deranged individual. What I want to know, though, is why someone who wishes to be a leader of our society should be exempt from the same level of scrutiny as the rest of us.
Leadership, by design, must adhere to higher standards. I'm not talking about any kind of criminal charges or new legislation or anything codified. Stan Lee was right when he assigned to Spider-Man the mantra, "With great power must come great responsibility." I did not see the "Re-Load" graphic as the clear and present danger that it has been characterized, but I also do not see it as responsible. If we're to continue being the world's leader--and it's in our best interests to continue that role, regardless of what paranoid isolationists would have you believe--then we must hold our leaders to a higher standard than this.
If it strikes you that I'm restricting my response to Governor Palin, it's not because I feel she's the only one with a lesson to learn here, but rather she's a microcosm of our political discussion. It's not specific to her. I think whatever it is that she should take out of all this, so should all our social and political leaders.
One last note. Glenn Beck apparently e-mailed Governor Palin this past week, fearful that someone might take it upon himself or herself to target her. "An attempt on you could bring down the republic," Beck says. Hyperbole in its purest form. If we survived the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the mass murders of Pearl Harbor and 9/11 and the advent of the designated hitter, I'm pretty sure an attempt on Sarah Palin--who doesn't even hold an office--will not be our end. And if I were Sarah Palin, I think I'd see about getting a restraining order against Beck because he's clearly got a very creepy, stalker-ish obsession with her. Just sayin'.
And now, a cautionary song written by Steve Earle performed by the Highwaymen on their third and final album, The Road Goes On Forever, "The Devil's Right Hand" -