What I’ve seen I thought has been pretty good. People are taking it seriously, they’re trying to ferret out the various aspects of the story, and I think some of the investigative journalism has been quite good for the first forty-eight hours or so.
Do you have advice or cautions for journalists who will be writing on political rhetoric in the wake of Saturday’s shooting?
Just to be cautious about jumping to what may be easy, but wrong, conclusions. And to look back into history and to try to understand how our current moment is part of a larger mosaic, rather than just fixate on this particular instance as though it is somehow abnormal.
In your view, what is the ultimate goal of political rhetoric?
Well, the goal of political rhetoric ought to be to present one’s ideas and policies in as persuasive manner as one can within the bounds of civility. Clearly some of our politicians have forgotten about those last few words: “within the bounds of civility.” Many of our political commentators and talk show hosts have as well. There is a great temptation to demonize those with whom we disagree. If all one cares about is ratings or the ability to incite or excite an audience, then the bounds of civility don’t matter to the speaker. I think they should, for both moral and pragmatic reasons—morally, because each person is due dignity and respect as a human being, and pragmatically, because democracy only works when people can consider a range of ideas, debate their strengths and weaknesses, and arrive at a decision that will not please everyone completely but which will satisfy most people partially. Democracy only works well when all parties have the common good as their primary goal.