Patrick Beck, president of the Mohave County Tea Party, was at a Republican Party meeting this morning when the news of the shooting in Tucson got out. Ron Gould, a state senator at the meeting, started to talk about Gabrielle Giffords -- who, for a short time, had been reported dead. This had happened at the other end of the state, but everyone there had opposed Giffords, a rising star who'd voted for health care reform and narrowly been re-elected in 2010.
"Senator Gould said that he sat next to Giffords, and he disagreed with her at times, but she was a kind and wonderful person," remembered Beck. "And it really brought home that none of this should be personal. When we talk about Barack Obama, we've got to be clear, it's not personal. When we say he's destroying this country we are not saying he's doing it out malicious intent and a desire to cripple us. He has good intentions and he's wrong. I worry when that gets lost."
Arizona has one of the most active Tea Party movements of any state, and its activists have repeatedly had to defend themselves against charges of racism, of threatening the president (after one activist showed up carrying a rifle, which is legal, to a protest outside a presidential appearance), and now, of encouraging an attempted assassination. Next month, a national Tea Party Patriots meeting will happen in Phoenix. "It will also be our opportunity to support the citizens of Arizona in their current political battles that carry so many national implications," said TPP when announcing this.
If Beck has his way, that meeting will be an opportunity for Tea Partiers to think about how they discuss politics.
"It's very easy to look back and say, 'I should have phrased that differently,'" he said. "Should I talk differently when I describe the Founders, and compare what we're facing to what they faced? Could somebody imply that I'm calling for a revolution. I am not, but you have to realize that not everyone is going to take things the right way."
Beck thought on this. "I've definitely been in Tea Party events where people have signs or shouted inappropriate things," he said. "What can we do to stop that? Not a lot. All we can do is be real clear about what we mean, but it makes it real difficult to speak when every few minutes you're giving a disclaimer. 'We have to fight back -- but, wait, I don't mean literally fight.' Those words such as fight, and take back, and restore... we know what we mean but we have to be clear what we mean, and in next few weeks, as this all plays out, people will be more understanding of that."
Beck wasn't looking forward to the coming "finger-pointing" over this incident, which has definitely claimed the life of a judge, John Roll, who'd been protested over an immigration ruling. "People blame the right for Oklahoma City," said Beck. "People blame the left for the Pentagon being bombed. I don't know this guy who did this, but there are crazy people in all walks of life. One rotten apple does not make a bad batch."
Also in Slate, Jack Shafer is responding to the Giffords shooting and its media coverage.