Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
We cannot walk away from this one.
We cannot blame one nutjob for the shooting of 19 people Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., and wash our hands of it.
We cannot pretend that this is only about him and not about us.
Worst of all, we cannot say we were not warned.
For more than two years, sensible people have been pleading with their fellow Americans to tone down the rhetoric, to quit with the demonizing, to end the fear-mongering.
In what kind of country, the sensible people asked, do political leaders across the board not condemn a sign at a rally that reads: “We left our guns at home — this time”?
In what kind of country do people show up at presidential speeches with guns on their hips?
In what kind of a country do callers to radio shows routinely smear those with whom they disagree — beginning with our president — as “traitors” and “un-American,” while pandering hosts say only, “Thanks for the call.”
If we continue this way, the sensible people warned, something will happen.
And now something has happened.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was meeting with constituents outside a supermarket Saturday — a “Congress on Your Corner” event — when a young man walked up, aimed a gun at her head and started shooting.
As we wrote this, Giffords was fighting for her life in a Tucson hospital. Six people were dead. Twelve others were wounded.
What drove the killer, who police say might have had an accomplice? Was it the reckless rhetoric of our times? As of yet, we don’t know. Maybe, though improbably, politics had nothing to do with this.
Only in time will we know if the killer was among those who threatened Giffords with physical harm last year when she voted in favor of President Obama’s health-care reforms. We may never know whether he was the one who shattered the windows of her Tucson office. And it’s entirely possible that he was not among those — the many — who threatened her with death after she spoke out against Arizona’s harsh new immigration law.
But would any intelligent person be surprised to learn otherwise?
The safe observation for us to make now — you will hear it from others all week — is that the angry and irresponsible talk that might lead an unhinged person to pick up a gun is common across the political landscape, from right to left.
But that simply is not true.
Overwhelmingly today, the fear-mongering and demonizing flow from the right, aided and abetted by cable TV and talk-radio hosts. They may represent only the irresponsible fringe of conservatism in America, but they are drowning out the thoughtful voices of the vast majority of conservatives.
Giffords, as she showed by meeting constituents outside that supermarket, dared to believe that Americans can disagree with each other without turning on each other.
Maybe that was a mistake.