Discuss as:

First thoughts: A new chance for civility?

Does Saturday’s tragedy in Arizona offer a new chance for civility, or simply a pause? … GOP-led House cancels all legislative activity this week, including health-care repeal… Obama led a national moment of silence today at 11:00 am ET… But will the kumbaya last?... Everyone needs to look the mirror -- combative conservatives, vociferous liberals, and even the news media… Does the tragedy haunt Palin, if she decides to run for higher office? … BCS politics makes the New York Times’ front page.

*** A new chance for civility? President Obama called to change the way American politics is practiced when he ran for president. So, too, did John Boehner and House Republican leaders when they campaigned to take control of Congress. But those calls were drowned out by the usual political shouting, yelling, and threats. Tragically, however, the shooting Saturday at a congressional event in Arizona -- killing six and wounding 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) -- now has the real ability to do what these elected officials haven’t been able to do: usher in a more civil era in politics and, at a minimum, simply start a SERIOUS conversation about the awful tone. The Republican-led House has canceled all legislative activity this week, including the bill to repeal the health-care law. Obama, meanwhile, has called for a moment of silence today at 11:00 am ET and has postponed his Tuesday trip to Schenectady, NY. And at Boehner’s direction, Congress will also observe that moment of silence.

*** But will it all last? Yet National Journal’s Reinhard writes, “[W]hile the take-no-prisoners rhetoric may subside for a while, it’s unclear whether any political truce would last longer than the temporary cooling-off periods after Oklahoma City and 9-11. There's not much interest in kumbaya in a 24/7 media culture that thrives on the latest conflict. ‘I'm hoping that people would reflect on some of the language that they use and realize that honorable people can disagree, but I'm not optimistic,'’ said John Weaver, a Republican advisor to former presidential nominee John McCain. ‘We don't reflect on much of anything in this society.'”

*** Everyone needs to look in the mirror: In fact, the finger-pointing has already begun. Liberals have blamed the overheated Tea Party/conservative rhetoric for contributing today’s vitriolic political climate (and there’s little question that the past two years have been worse than at any time since the 1960s). Conservatives, meanwhile, have started to aggressively push back against that critique (and it’s clear that the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, was so disturbed and outside the mainstream of either political party). But everyone -- combative conservatives, vociferous liberals and, yes, the media -- needs to take a hard look in the mirror, because we’ve all contributed to a political environment where opponents just don’t disagree, they de-humanize each other; they just don’t question those in power, they de-legitimize them; and we in the media just play along, giving attention -- not condemnation -- to the extremes. And what's happening in the new media (blogosphere and Twitterverse), where each side is trying to find a high horse to climb or find anything to grasp to prove their own point, is awful. Instead of trying to prove that one person's form of toxic political rhetoric is more damaging than another's doesn't lead us in the direction of cleaning up this cesspool of hateful political speech that's become more mainstream.

*** The spotlight on Palin: Of course, this all brings us to Sarah Palin. What took place on Saturday in Arizona could end up haunting her, if she decides to run for higher office. More than any other public actor, Palin -- the 2008 GOP VP nominee -- has embodied today’s combative political rhetoric (“Don’t retreat, instead reload), and her “target” list to defeat Democratic members who voted for the health-care bill (including Giffords) has received a considerable amount of attention since Saturday. As Politico’s Martin writes, “Whether she defends, explains or even responds at all to the intense criticism of her brand of confrontational politics could well determine her trajectory on the national scene—and it’s likely to reveal the scope of her ambitions as well.”

*** Condoning violent imagery or language isn’t responsible: Here’s a final point we want to make about Saturday’s shooting: No responsible leader condones violence, but simply saying you don't condone violence and allowing your colleagues or allies to use violent imagery and language without speaking out against it isn't being responsible -- whether you are a Republican or a Democrat. We're going to make our own effort here at First Read to avoid gun and war images when talking about politics. To political professionals, the use of these images has no impact; the problem is when these images are digested by those who are already a bit unstable. No one is calling for censorship, only responsibility.

*** BCS politics: Saturday’s tragic shooting isn’t the only focus on Arizona. The state also is home to tonight’s national championship game in college football. And the New York Times uses tonight’s game as a peg to profile the political action committee pushing for playoffs in college football. “The committee, which was founded in 2009, has emerged as one of the few organized voices opposing the college bowl system… Critics say the B.C.S. is unfair to teams from outside the six most powerful and wealthiest conferences, whose champions are guaranteed a berth in the series, and they disagree with the national championship being determined by a complicated set of polls and computer rankings rather than on the field.”

Countdown to the RNC chair election: 4 days
Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 43 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 302 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 392 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter. and