By GARY BAUMGARTEN
The build up to the shooting spree in Arizona which left a congresswoman fighting for her life, six others including a judge and a 9-year-old girl dead, has been taking place for several years now.
It started during the last presidential campaign. And it extended after President Obama took office.
It wasn't just the opposition to the president and his policies. It was the way some people expressed themselves.
People who "targeted" opponents - and put gun targets next to the names of political opponents. Sarah Palin, the woman who would be president of the United States, is guilty of the tactic.
Not to mention people wh0 demonstrated outside congressional town hall meetings carrying guns. Just exercising their 2nd Amendment rights - they insisted.
All of this created a hostile atmosphere - especially for members of Congress who supported the president's health reform bill.
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was one of those who voted for the bill. She was "targeted" by Palin and others. Last March, her office was vandalized. And she received death threats.
Saturday she held a constituent's gathering on a street corner in Tuscon. A man, identified by police as 22-year-old Jared Loughner came up and opened fire.
During an evening news conference, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he believed the shooting was motivated by political rhetoric.
"The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," he said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."
During extended coverage of the shootings on cable TV I heard contributors - some of whom are known for their ability to shout down the opponent they are "debating" - suggest that this is a wake up call for the nation. The opined that, hopefully, something good will come from the tragedy. Why it must come to this before we, as a nation, confront the way we debate politics is astounding to me.
Public leaders, especially, have a responsibility to be cautious that the words they use don't inflame those who are less than stable into taking matters into their own hands.
Every politician, every political pundit, who engaged in inflammatory rhetoric over the past three years, should consider what happened in Tuscon Saturday.
No one is suggesting that people should be muzzled nor that their free speech be taken away. But we need to be mindful of how the manner in which we argue becomes suggestive to those who are unstable.
There's an art to disagreeing without being disagreeable. There's no art to the shouting that may have led to Saturday's tragedy. None at all.
Gary Baumgarten is news and programming director at the Paltalk News Network.