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Arizona shooting reverberates in Congress. Can it change the culture?

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Rep. Robert Brady (D) of Pennsylvania wants to get the courts involved by expanding the existing ban on threats to top political leaders. His draft bill, which was prompted by Saturday's shootings, provides that all those things you can’t say about a president or vice president – such as statements or symbols expressing intent to kill or injure – you also should not be able to say about other federal officials, including members of Congress.

That means no putting members' faces in a bull’s eye or cross hairs. After the Arizona shootings, Sarah Palin’s PAC website removed a map that put cross hairs on districts around the country where political opponents were targeted for defeat. Palin spokeswoman Rebecca Mansour called the targets on the site “surveying symbols.”

The trouble is, Representative Brady notes, all that fear and hate-infused speech gets the public’s attention. Negative ads can push a candidate over the top – or sink them.

“Unfortunately, it’s good politics in this day and age,” Brady said via a spokesman Monday. “It’s hard to end practices that work at the ballot box.”

Journalists, too, are caught up in the “showdown,” “targeting,” “taking aim” rhetoric now deemed offensive. The National Journal cover story for Jan. 8 features the subhead: “John Boehner’s troops are spoiling for a fight, but the speaker wants to aim before he shoots.”

The Rev. Rob Schenk, president of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, says that fundraisers, too, share responsibility for a pernicious political culture. “The typical fundraising letter says that if you don’t do this, they will take over, as in your grandchildren will be taught by homosexuals in their classroom,” he says.

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