In the contest for popular outrage the past few days, we have several possible targets. Wait, scratch that. We don't "target" people anymore. We trace them with hearts and dot our I's with smiley faces.
Most infamous, of course, is the hysteria around Sarah Palin's political map, wherein she, or someone in her den of mama grizzlies, placed cross hairs over congressional districts held by Democrats or other undesirable incumbents. One, alas, was over Tucson, where Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was gunned down.
That terrible event, perpetrated by a random killer whose political leanings are unclear but whose mental instability is not in doubt, thus has been connected to Palin. This history is well-known so there's no need to rehash, but the debate about words and consequences shouldn't end there.
Her unrelated instructions to her minions - "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" - sound utterly appalling in light of what happened, but everyone knows Palin wasn't urging violence. She's an outdoorsy kind of gal who has made shtick out of her oneness with nature. When she uses the language of hunting and shooting, she isn't speaking code to killers. She's dog whistling to Ted Nugent and other Second Amendment comrades.
You want real trouble in free speechery? Suggest that someone is Hitler-esque or a Nazi, as Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen recently did. Cohen was trying to make the case that, in his view, Republicans have created untruths about health-care reform that have become credible through repetition. Inartfully, he paraphrased a quotation often attributed to Joseph Goebbels: "If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." (See full story here at WaPo)