Political Discourse Gets Mean in Shooting's Wake

As the first shock waves from the story of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' shooting were spreading, the words of Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik helped set off an incendiary debate.

"The hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," Dupnik said.

CBS News Chief Political Correspondent Jeff Greenfield reports that some are wondering whether angry political words lead to this deed, and whether partisans are rushing to exploit this slaughter.

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New York Daily News columnist Michael Daly wrote that Gifford's blood was on Sarah Plain's hands for "targeting" Gifford's district in a 2010 election map.

A "Tea Party Nation" statement charged that the shootings were being exploited by what it called "the party of treason."

"Each side just grabbedteh facts they wanted and began the fight anew," CBs News analyst John Dickerson said.

For the record, harsh political speech has been as American as apple pie.

A political opponent once said that if Thomas Jefferson was elected, "the streets will be filled with blood."

More recently, the roughest language has been aimed at the American government itself.

A generation ago, some intellectuals on the Left were flirting with "revolutionary" violence espoused by the Black Panthers and the Weathermen. The New York Review of Books, a leading literary magazine, once put a diagram of a Molotov cocktail on its cover.

These days, the harshest words about government usually come from the Right. Former house Speaker Newt Gingrich argues that the "secular socialist" agenda of President Barack Obama and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is as big a threat to America as Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were.

Prominent conservative pollster Dick Morris had this to say about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms: "I'm beginning to think those crazies in Montana who want to attack the ATF folks have a point."

The image of a gun as a symbol of resistance is broadly popular for both political parties. It was Democrat Joe Manchin whose Senate campaign featured an ad with him shooting at an unpopular bill.

All of which, says the co-founder of one of the larger Tea Party groups, is beside the point.

"Anybody that would take an incident like this and try and turn it into political points, as far as I'm concerned they've lost their humanity," said Mark Meckler, cofounder of the Tea Party Patriots. "They need to go home and reevaluate the kind of people they are."

The angry war over the angry words is still likely to rage, even though no one knows whether they had anything to do with what happened in Tucson.
  • Jeff Greenfield

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