Tom White received threats. Most politicians do. But the former Nebraska State Senator and 2010 Congressional candidate declined to elaborate on the nature of those threats because he says he never took them seriously. “Nebraskans are civilized people,” White says. The citizens of Arizona likely felt the same before 22-year-old Jared Loughner opened fire at a political rally Jan. 8 in Tucson, killing six and wounding 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She remained in serious condition on Jan. 11. President Barack Obama was careful to avoid political finger-pointing in his first public statement following the shooting, saying now was a time for “pulling together as a country.” But White sees at least one clear cause — the climate of political punditry that promotes fierce partisanship. “You cannot spew the volumes of venom that have been dished out by the pundits chasing ratings and profits without the overall environment becoming more shrill and extreme,” White says. “You sow the wind and you reap the whirlwind.” In the whirlwind following the Arizona shooting, one local politician toned down his message. Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson removed an image of Sen. Ben Nelson’s head superimposed over a target from his blog. He told Politico on Jan. 10 he had received pressure from Nelson supporters. But he said the image posted Nov. 2 “simply illustrated that Ben Nelson is our primary political target — nothing more, and only a fool would say otherwise.” GOP leader Sarah Palin removed similar crosshairs images targeting 20 House Democrats — including Giffords — that had been posted on her political action committee website since March. Eliminating potentially offensive images is one thing, but White says removing the danger of a public office is nearly impossible. He hopes the Arizona shooting will force people to closely examine the types of political messages they see and hear, and whom is delivering them. “One of the things that needs to happen is people need to grow disgusted with those who are shrill and offer only virulent attacks without solutions,” he says. “Do that and the political climate will improve and we’ll become more effective at governing.”

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