The bloody horror that descended on Tucson on Saturday illustrates the tremendous power of words as much as it does the havoc and sadness that a lone gunman can inflict.
That doesn’t mean someone’s ill-conceived graphic or a speech laden with violent imagery somehow led directly to the shootings. No, the shooter clearly is responsible, whatever his motives and whoever his role models may have been.
It is the reaction to the violence that is telling. Both left and right are responding as they have because they understand that language has an impact. We use certain words because we know they work.
People speak clumsily off the cuff and use wild, rash statements in private conversation. We routinely say things in the heat of the moment that we don’t mean to be taken literally.
In a highly scripted political campaign, however, words must be taken at face value. If they are not chosen carefully for their specific meaning and for the actions they will provoke, they are chosen poorly. If hyperbolic intent backfires and some “rhetoric” that wasn’t meant to be taken seriously ends in tragedy, the chooser still chose the words.
A candidate says “2nd Amendment remedies” might be in order. Another says it isn’t time to retreat, but to reload and fire another salvo. It is disingenuous for such speakers to deny any trace of responsibility when people later die.
Choose your words carefully.
Why? Because they work.