Schieffer: Rhetoric and Its Consequences

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Law enforcement personnel listen to a briefing in Tucson, Ariz., Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011 near the scene of a shooting that involved Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. (AP Photo/Arizona Daily Star, Kelly Presnell) MANDATORY CREDIT, MAGS OUT, NO SALES
Arizona Daily Star, Kelly Presnell
We live as we were reminded yesterday in a dangerous, hair-trigger time, where tempers always seem near the boiling point and patience seems a lost trait.

Democracy's arguments have never been pretty, but technology has changed the American dialogue.

Because we can now know of problems instantly, we expect answers immediately. And when we don't get them, we let everyone know in no uncertain terms.

We scream and shout - hurl charges without proof. Those on the other side of the argument become not opponents but enemies.

Dangerous, inflammatory words are used with no thought of consequence. All's fair if it makes the point. Worse, some make great profit just fanning the flames.

Which wouldn't amount to much if the words reached only the sane and the rational, but the new technology insures a larger audience. Those with sick and twisted minds hear us, too, and are sometimes inflamed by what the rest of us often discard as hollow and silly rhetoric.

And so violence becomes part of the argument.

In an eloquent statement, the new Republican House Speaker John Boehner said yesterday's "attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve. "

But it is much more - it is an attack on each of us and our way of life.

If elected officials cannot meet with those who have elected them without fear of being shot, if the rest of us allow such a situation to exist, then we are no longer the America that those who came before us fought and died to protect and defend.

We must change the atmosphere in which this happened, and we can begin by remembering that words have consequences.

Like all powerful things, they must be used carefully.

More and more, we seem to have forgotten that.

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    Bob Schieffer is a CBS News political contributor and former anchor of "Face The Nation," which he moderated for 24 years before retiring in 2015.