Curiously, Congresswoman Giffords' shooting comes at the same time as Jack Straw's crude attempts to inflame racial hatred in advance of the Oldham by-election. And slightly awkwardly, on the same weekend that the Mail publishes Richard North's piece on why politicians should fear the voters. North writes:
It is my belief that the rot starts at the top. But for answers, you need to go back to the great Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence.
He saw how the people and their governments should relate, declaring: ‘When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.’ There lies my conclusion, gained from a lifetime of experience at all levels of government. Our ‘rulers’ have lost their fear.
You have only to go down to the Houses of Parliament or Downing Street to see this. Our masters have retreated behind concrete barricades, blastproof windows, policemen with machine guns, armoured limousines and riot police. The political classes are now a gated community. They feel safe. They are not afraid of us.
Richard isn't advocating assassination of course; he's making the point that the isolation of the political class from our world has resulted in not only protection from physical attack but in the impossibility of getting any of them to take the blame for anything, that they're protected not just from the assassin's bullet but from all public accountability.
Gabby Giffords was shot by a mentalist. Nearly all US political assassinations have been carried out by mentalists. Only two that I know of - Wilkes Booth who killed Lincoln and the anarchist Czolgosz, who killed McKinley - were ideologically motivated. That mentalists are provoked by the robust political debate around them isn't a reason for stopping robust political debate, but nor is it a reason to insulate the political class from responsibility. And the fact that mentalists now have open access to Twitter, Facebook and YouTube isn't a reason to blame the medium - if anything, the new media are providing an unprecedented early warning of mental instability. Squaring the circle between protecting those in public office from mentalists whilst exposing them to the wrath of the electorate if they screw up is not going to be without problems, but we must achieve it if our democracy is to remain healthy.