I've been crying all morning. In anger and in sadness. Because, as the grown-ups --a minority!--who populate our country have been predicting for some time, it's come true: a non-Tea Party member of Congress got shot for doing her job. It's impossible to glorify violence, and guns, and to talk about your political opponents as traitors deserving of death, without seeing your words come to life.
And the objects of all this vitriol? People who have voted for things like extending healthcare to more Americans, keeping unemployment benefits in place, allowing all citizens to serve in the military regardless of sexual orientation.
"But," Palin apologists protest, "Our graphics with crosshairs on them have nothing to do with violence! And Sarah doesn't mean it when she uses words like 'bulls-eye'! And she doesn't shoot those moose just for fun!"
"But," adds Michelle Malkin, "The Daily Kos called for Gabby Giffords' death just last week!"
"But," adds Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, "Giffords is a liberal!"
Let's take a moment to look at some of those affected, and the losses, from yesterday's shooting. Giffords is the first Jewish woman elected to Congress from Arizona, a Democrat representing a staunchly Republican district, and a supporter of such decidedly non-liberal stances as strong immigration laws and, ironically, gun owership. She just defeated a Tea Party candidate to keep her seat. She's also a Fulbright scholar. And her husband, Mark Kelly, is a freakin' astronaut. An ASTRONAUT.
Among those murdered: Giffords' head of community outreach, who was a respected young social worker; John Roll, a highly-regarded Federal judge with nearly 40 years of government service; and a nine-year-old girl whose birthday was 9/11/2001.
Giffords and her Arizona colleague, Raul Grijalva, have been targets of violence for months, as had Judge Roll. Vandalism, death threats, and guns at town halls had become a fact of life. The reason: because they held humanistic views on immigration reform.
Tea Party leaders, and those Republicans who have enabled them, are decrying any notion of a relationship between the deranged perpetrator of yesterday's shootings and right-wing political rhetoric. Perhaps they are correct. But I would bet my recession-plundered savings to say that the vandals, gun carriers and death-threat-issuers who have attacked Giffords, Grijalva and Roll over the past year HAVE been Tea Party members.
Because here's the truth: Tea Party rhetoric implies that it is right to employ violence against fellow Americans who hold different political ideologies. Having a different opinion means that you deserve to be shot, just like moose, for simply existing.
And "different" can be most anything: if you're not white, and don't believe in a Christian god, you're different. If you voted for Obama, you're different. If you think religion has no place in government, you're different. If you think I'm overstating the problem, just ask my white, Southern mother, who is now afraid to speak her mind in the city where she has lived her entire life. Her compassion and capability for rational thought now make her "different."
The fact is, as the grown-ups have known for quite some time, Tea Party rhetoric is not about fiscal responsibility or patriotism or unemployment. It's about fear, and hatred, and an unwillingness to accept the reality of living in a nation that, despite looking very different from the nation of 1776, has managed to survive intact, and make the rule of law and general civility the standard operating procedure, for all its diverse citizens. It's rather a miracle. And the supposedly spiritual Tea Party seems intent on destroying it.
Perhaps Palin and her cronies do not advocate physical violence, but ya betcha, they're pretty good at invoking its imagery. Makes it easy for some deranged 23-year-old to connect the dots between the crosshairs on a Facebook page and the crosshairs on a real gun, doesn't it? And to think that he'll be a hero for shooting someone?
Like most of the people I know, I've had enough. I'm not even particularly liberal, or a Democrat. But I am an American. I feel that we've worked hard for our particular miracle of a nation, and I'm not going to stand by and watch us lose it to those who seem to think that Fulbright scholars, astronauts, judges, social workers and schoolchildren are unnecessary frills in our society. Or that political discourse free from fear is a luxury, not a right.
I'm going to stand up and block their every move. My weapons: compassion, inclusion, love. My invitation: To come back from exile in the land of TeaPartania, fellow travelers. Join us in America, at the grown-ups table. We've had enough.