And while hostile rhetoric may not have been a factor in the alleged assassination attempt in Tucson of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) of Arizona, it was an issue that she herself had made a priority. Her widely reported e-mail sent to Kentucky’s Republican secretary of state, Trey Grayson, the day before she was wounded in a mass shooting is a clear indictment of the problem. Congratulating him on being named president of Harvard’s Institute of Politics, she added: “After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation. I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.”
In the immediate aftermath of Ms. Giffords’s shooting, these divisions have again been on display, as some partisans on the right and left have pointed fingers and accused one another of unfairly assigning blame.
“That is precisely what is wrong with our dialogue,” Stephen Carter, a law professor at Yale University and author of “The Violence of Peace,” observed in an e-mail interview. “Everything that happens, from the trivial to the tragic, is viewed across the spectrum as simply another opportunity to bash the opposition.”