Reporting from Washington — A day after a gunman opened fire at a public event in Tucson hosted by Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, political vitriol was the focus among some lawmakers, and the politics surrounding the violence broke down largely along partisan lines on the Sunday morning talks shows.
Democratic members of Congress largely suggested that the shootings might have been sparked by increasingly bitter political rhetoric while Republicans described the suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, as "unstable" and "deranged" without a clear link to politics.
Despite the differing interpretations, most Democrats refrained from openly accusing their political opponents, including "tea party" leaders or former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for ratcheting up the vitriol, as many in the blogosphere have done.
Instead, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinios said putting certain congressional districts in cross hairs, including Giffords', was "beyond the bounds" and "not acceptable rhetoric." During the 2010 campaign, Sarah Palin's Facebook page identified 20 critical congressional races by placing them in gun sights and at one point tweeted that Republicans should not "retreat" but "reload."
"Those of us in public life and the journalists who cover us should be thoughtful in response to this and try to bring down the rhetoric, which I'm afraid has become pervasive in our discussion of political issues," Durbin said on CNN. "The phrase 'don't retreat, reload' – putting cross hairs on congressional districts as targets – these sorts of things I think invite the kind of toxic rhetoric that can lead unstable people to believe this is an acceptable response."
Republicans focused on what they asserted was the isolated, unhinged nature of the accused gunman, Loughner, whose rambling, incoherent YouTube videos have been cited by politicians and analysts as a possible sign of his instability.
"I don't think we should rush to speculate," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). "It's probably giving him too much credit to ascribe a coherent political philosophy to him. We just have to acknowledge that there are mentally unstable people in this country. Who knows what motivates them to do what they do? Then they commit terrible crimes like this."