Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona's Eighth District has been shot and seriously wounded in what appears to have been a would-be assassination attempt. The Congresswoman was known to hold forthright liberal views, as a Democrat representative, and featured on Sarah Palin's website which placed rifle cross-hairs over the districts that Republicans need to take back. These facts alone have ensured a fevered level of political speculation and a poisonous blame game in the US, with Palin's facebook site receiving over 3,800 comments as I write, a mix of thoroughly antagonistic and quasi-devotional comments. The BBC's Mark Mardell comments on the reaction as illustrative of the poisoned atmosphere of US politics at the moment. Andrew Sullivan is maintaining a live-blog of developments, containing a full and ongoing assessment of what has happened.
It looks as if the would-be assassin is a psychologically damaged nutcase, rather than a coolly calculating right-wing nutcase, but as Sullivan points out:
...this does not exonerate violent or excessive rhetoric from the far right or far left: it's precisely the disturbed who can seize on those kinds of statements and act on them. The danger of violent rhetoric, especially involving gun violence, is its interaction with the disturbed.
The shooting - which has claimed five lives, including that of a 9 year old girl, a political aide to the congresswoman, and a federal judge who did himself become the target of ferocious, murderous rhetoric from the right - has allowed political hatreds to explode. And while the left express - perhaps too hysterically - their alarm, there is a correct focus on the hate-filled, gun and target obssessed rhetoric of an increasingly rabid right. We await further news.