It's a given that the suspected gunman in the fatal shooting that left six dead and critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords this weekend in Tucson wasn't acting purely on the political rhetoric coming out of the Grand Canyon State, nor on Sarah Palin's map of congressional districts with crosshairs over them. As with most things, it's much more complicated than that.
But Saturday's tragedy, regardless of the shooter's motive, has opened up a discussion that is still worth having. The incident has led to a national conversation about the political tone that has been coming out of Arizona, and much of that has to do with immigration politics - and, yes, the surrounding rhetoric.
The state is embroiled in controversy over its SB 1070 illegal immigration law, another new law that has essentially banned a Mexican American studies program, and the championing by some conservative political leaders of a national movement to deny U.S. citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants.
It's not surprising, given all this, that the comments made this weekend by Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik have made the rounds the way they have, making him a hero to some and a villain to others. What he said:
"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous...And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
Has it? A series of stories and commentaries have been addressing the influence of immigration politics in Arizona as part of the greater discourse surrounding the shooting. A sampling:
The Los Angeles Times had an interesting analysis of what is described as an "us-versus-them" political climate largely fueled by immigration, quoting state Sen. Russell Pearce (the sponsor of SB 1070, and an anti-birthright citizenship advocate) at an event in Phoenix that took place before the shooting:
"We're leading the nation," state Sen. Russell Pearce told the Maricopa County Republican Party as he celebrated the GOP's clean sweep of state elections in November and Arizona's influence on immigration and other issues.
Pearce, who wrote a tough immigration law last year, went on in the speech later posted on YouTube: "If it wasn't for Arizona you wouldn't have the debate going on that you have. … We've changed the face of this nation through the tea party, through Americans who want their government back."
Congressional Quarterly's Theodore Emery wrote in Congress.org that the shooting occurred against a "backdrop" of immigration issues, quoting various sources and noting that Giffords had opposed SB 1070. From the piece:
...immigration has been a consistent theme for Giffords, a Democratic moderate whose district in the southeast part of Arizona shares a 100-mile border with Mexico and has seen several high-profile shootings.
It was inside Arizona’s 8th District boundaries that 58-year-old rancher Robert Krentz and his dog were shot and killed last March, fueling concerns about spillover drug violence along the border and helping spur state lawmakers to enact a tough and controversial crackdown on illegal immigration.
Writing for CNN, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette (a former colleague) mentioned having lived for a while in Arizona in the 1990s in an opinion piece titled "Sheriff Dupnik is right about Arizona." He wrote:
Raise your hand if you have had it with the drama capital of America, which seems to spend more time on the front page than the other 49 states combined. Or if you think the Grand Canyon State has become, in recent years, more trouble than it's worth. Or if you feel like saying, to paraphrase what folk singer Phil Ochs said about Mississippi in the 1960s: "Here's to the people you've torn out the heart of. Arizona, find yourself another country to be part of."
While not specifically addressing Arizona politics or immigration, Jennifer Rubin defended conservative lawmakers and media in a Washington Post opinion piece, pointing out that accused shooter Jared Lee Loughner had no known political agenda:
It is as noxious to associate Saturday's shooting with conservative campaign rhetoric, even that which is over-the-top, as it would be to claim that violence is the doing of those who labeled Tea Partyers un-American (as Democratic leaders did during the health-care debate) or of those who accuse senators of being unpatriotic (as a liberal newspaper columnist recently did). If a lunatic attacks a businessman, are we to blame Obama for vilifying the Chamber of Commerce?
Lastly, Dee Dee Garcia Blase, the founder of a conservative Latino group in Arizona called Somos Republicans, posted on the group's website yesterday that she overheard a comment that offended her while at a political gathering Saturday, shortly after news of the shooting was announced:
While in shock and in disbelief, I heard snickers in the distance and muffled voices asserting that the shooting was probably “done by an illegal."