Despite the fact that he is now the focus of national attention, Pima county sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik is not one to mince words. A local law enforcement officer for more than 50 years, Dupnik was quick to condemn the “anger, hatred and bigotry” after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and was one of the first to point to the “vitriolic rhetoric” as a contributing cause to the Arizona tragedy.
Some on the right have already attacked Dupnik as exploiting the shooting for political gain. But these attacks largely ignore the consistency in Dupnik’s rhetoric long before the events over the last weekend.
Dupnik was one of the first and most vocal opponents to Arizona’s controversial immigration law, and he’s been equally critical of the state’s extremely lax gun laws. While such positions may make him a darling of the left, he’s also on record as saying that schools should check to see if their students are in the country legally and report those results to the federal government.
To that end, Dupnik is in the perfect position to shine a critical light on the fevered political rhetoric that has enveloped his state and this country.
It’s an examination that is necessary and one that is long overdue. For far too long short term political or economic gain has come at the expense of reasoned political discourse. Violent images pepper campaign posters and talking points, though candidates are quick to walk away from them at a time like this. It’s so bad I wonder if this country is even capable of having an informed political debate anymore.
In fact, if any good were to come from the senseless deaths of over the weekend it would be an overall change in political tone. This is more than just walking away from the “reload” rhetoric pushed by the likes of Sarah Palin. This means ending the nostalgic embrace of the Confederacy currently popular among the right, and it means an end to the casual references of “rebellion” and “secession” unless those choosing to employ that rhetoric are comfortable embracing the catastrophic consequences when those words get away.
I for one hope Dupnik continues his critique of our political rhetoric, and I hope his honest and plain-spoken manner catches on with others. Attempted assassinations on elected officials and the murder of innocent bystanders cannot be tolerated. Nor can those who stoke those fires. Heated debate and dissent are critical to a functioning democracy but poisonous and reckless rhetoric will be its undoing.
photo courtesy of David Shankbone via Flickr