It’s becoming increasingly clear that Jared Lee Loughner appears to be a psychologically unhinged, nihilistic individual with no coherent ideology, whose political views are irrelevant if they can even be articulated. But that hasn’t stopped lawmakers—mostly from the left—from denouncing a climate of extremism and calling for a more civil, less partisan atmosphere.
Democrats are now ramping up calls to place restrictions on inflammatory speech. Rep. Bob Brady (D-Pa.) plans to introduce a bill that would curb the use of threatening imagery against legislators and judges, according to the National Journal. Similarly, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.)—the third-ranking Democrat in the House—has called for the return of the Fairness Doctrine, a defunct regulation that requires broadcasters to devote airtime to opposing political views. “Free speech is as free speech does,” Clyburn told a local paper. “You cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and call it free speech and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Chellie Pingeree (D-Maine) has even called for Republicans to change the name of their health-care repeal bill, currently entitled “the Repeal the Job Killing Health Care Law Act.” Pingree explains in the Huffington Post:
Don’t get me wrong—I’m not suggesting that the name of that one piece of legislation somehow led to the horror of this weekend—but is it really necessary to put the word “killing” in the title of a major piece of legislation? I don’t think that word is in there by accident — my Republican friends know as well as anyone the power of words to send a message. But in this environment and at this moment in our nation’s history, it’s not the message we should be sending.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, national lawmakers will probably tamp down the tone in Washington: House Republicans have already postponed their vote this week on their health care repeal bill, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday, and lawmakers have called for unity out of respect for the victims. Barring any new evidence that directly links Loughner to any political activism or activities, Democrats will have a tough time pinning the blame on extreme rhetoric. The right has certainly racheted up inflammatory, increasingly militaristic attacks on their opponents, which has stoked Democratic fears about violent retaliation over the last year. But by calling for a free-speech crackdown, Dems may simply be accused of playing politics with a national tragedy.
Read our exclusive interview with a friend who describes Loughner’s family, bizarre dream journal, and his obsession with Rep. Giffords. Full coverage of the shooting and its aftermath is here.