Sarah Palin made a call to conscience Wednesday for those who would manufacture "a blood libel" for last weekend's Arizona shooting, saying "acts of monstrous brutality ... begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively" with Americans exercising their constitutional freedoms.
The former Republican vice-presidential candidate, the target of many pontificators ascribing motive to gunman Jared Lee Loughner, charged in the Tucson attack that killed six and injured 14 others, had been silent since shortly after the Saturday shooting when she issued a two-line statement offering her prayers for the families and victims.
But Palin's name -- and those of others, including Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle -- had been central in the early accusations over what spurred the shooting. Liberal media pundits assigned blame by citing Palin's political action committee's website, which showed crosshairs on districts that it was targeting in the November midterm, including the district of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the believed target of the gunman who was wounded in the shooting.
Others said Angle's comments on the campaign trail also incited violence. The debate about heated political rhetoric ratcheted up so quickly and vigorously -- even before Loughner had been identified as the alleged shooter -- some Democratic lawmakers called for curbs on free speech.
In a Facebook posting issued Wednesday morning, Palin lamented the "irresponsible statements" of those casting blame on political figures.
"If you don't like a person's vision for the country, you're free to debate that vision. If you don't like their ideas, you're free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible," Palin said.
She added that claims that the political rhetoric is somehow more heated today than ever before seem unfounded, noting that "back in those 'calm days'" of the Republic, political differences were occasionally settled with "dueling pistols."
Palin was immediately criticized for the statements, including her use of the term "blood libel," which historically has referred to the Medieval effort to try to demonize Jews by falsely accusing them of murdering Christians to use their blood in ritual.
"You know, Sarah Palin just can't seem to get it, on any front. I think she's an attractive person, she is articulate," Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., reportedly told the Bill Press radio show. "But I think intellectually, she seems not to be able to understand what's going on here."
But Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz defended Palin's use of the term "blood libel," saying it "has taken on a broad metaphorical meaning in public discourse.
"There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term," he told BigGovernment.com.
As Palin decried the exploitation of the Arizona shooting, some lawmakers said federal regulations are needed to stop heated speech.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., on Monday referenced a comment by Angle in calling for a change in the nation's political dialogue -- by will or by law.
"'Don't retreat, reload.' Someone in Nevada saying we may need to use Second Amendment remedies. There's only one way to read this," Slaughter said.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told Fox News that Angle "talked about people rising up and taking over the government by force, using their guns. She was very explicit."
Sherman said that even if language used by Angle and her supporters hadn't incited the shootings in Arizona, eventually it will lead to violence.
"I'm saying if you have a heart attack, stop smoking, not because nicotine may or may not have caused your last heart attack, you'll never know, but it's going to cause the next one," Sherman said. "And if we continue to bring into the mainstream and treat as civil those who call for violence and disruption and assassination and revolution and insurrection, then whether that caused what happened in Tucson or not, it will cause the next tragedy."
Angle defended herself in a statement released late Tuesday.
"Expanding the context of the attack to blame and to infringe upon the people's constitutional liberties is both dangerous and ignorant. The irresponsible assignment of blame to me, Sarah Palin or the Tea Party movement by commentators and elected officials puts all who gather to redress grievances in danger," Angle said.
"Finger-pointing toward political figures is an audience-rating game and contradicts the facts as they are known," Angle added. "I have consistently called for reasonable political dialogue on policy issues to encourage civil political education and debate. Inappropriately attributing blame of a singular tragedy to achieve a political agenda is contrary to civil discourse, and is a media ploy to which I refuse to belong."
In the wake of the shooting, the National Hispanic Media Coalition used the incident to reiterate its call for the FCC to update its definitions of hate speech in media. It also asked the FCC to "examine the extent and effects of hate speech in media, and non-regulatory options for counteracting the violence that extreme rhetoric breeds."
Rep. Robert Brady, D-Pa., said he has no knowledge about what motivated Loughner to attack Giffords and the others, but he still wants legislation that bans the use of certain imagery when talking about congressional targets.
"I want to eliminate what may have been," Brady told Fox News. "I'm not a psychologist ... All I'm saying is you can't put a bull's eye or a crosshair on a member of Congress."
And on Tuesday, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., was quoted in the Oregon Statesman-Journal saying he blamed conservative media personalities like Fox News' Glenn Beck and radio host Rush Limbaugh.
"I hold them personally responsible. I don't know how they can sleep at night after this," Schrader said.
Loughner, the accused gunman with no discernible connection to American political discourse, has not stated why he allegedly shot 20 people in the assault at a Tucson Safeway grocery store. The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the community college student who had been suspended last October had frequented gaming websites seeking answers to questions about why he couldn't find a job or get a girlfriend.
More than a decade ago, lawmakers like Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., warned that violence in movies and video games could cause violence in life. But graphic imagery and heated rhetoric moved to the political theater long before that.
Several recent examples have been offered from both sides of the aisle, including President Obama's quoting from the film "The Untouchables" in which appears the statement, "If they bring a knife, we'll bring a gun."
And even before movie references, crosshairs and bull's eyes, "battlefields" were drawn across campaign and policy landscapes. President Lyndon Johnson's State of the Union speech called for a figurative "War on Poverty," a precursor to the Reagan administration's equally figurative "War on Drugs."
Slaughter said that while she's not up to speed on current regulations, the Federal Communications Commission should work to sanction broadcasts that could incite people to violence.
"No one owns the airwaves," Slaughter said. "They are owned by the people."
If lawmakers were to seek remedies to quiet distasteful discussion, the so-called Fairness Doctrine is at the top of lists inspiring supporters and alarming opponents.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., told National Public Radio said he "came up in a time that the Fairness Doctrine did not allow media outlets to say things about a candidate or a person in public office without giving that person equal time to respond. And I really believe that everybody needs to take a look at where we are pushing things, and may need to take a serious step back and evaluate what's going on here."
Brent Bozell, president of the Media Research Center, said any effort to "use the Arizona tragedy as an excuse to criminalize conservative thought through the FCC" will "backfire magnificently."
"The country is learning that a) there was no conservative 'hate' speech that inspired this killer, and b) that this monster wasn't even a conservative! In the face of those realities, any attempt to tar Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, or any other conservative leader as responsible in any way will be met with outrage by the American people. If they bring a knife, we'll bring a gun -- as they say," Bozell said.
And not every politician may be on board with a hasty turn to bottling up dissenting voices. Delivering a speech Tuesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said media have the power to inspire, motivate and inform. "But they also have the power to inflame and incite. The seething rhetoric has gone too far."
However, Leahy added, "In a free society, the society that we Americans must always want our country to be, the government should not and must not restrain free expression."
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., also suggested Tuesday in a speech at the Center for American Progress that the blame game has no winner.
"The big question wasn't whose rhetoric was right or wrong, but whether our political conversation was worthy of the confidence and trust of the American people," he said.