I was watching CNN to catch updates on the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az.), when I saw a talking head mention that although the substance of discussions on the Hill will not be different, the tone certainly will.
Apart from the tragedy itself, which has yielded respectful statements from President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Oh.), I doubt that the tone in Washington will change at all. Violent acts tend to polarize and hyperbolize debate, rather than calm debate. Even though the expectation is that grief or tragedy will bring us together, we rarely see it. When crime increases in neighborhoods, civil society breaks down rather than coming together to stop the crime. After 9/11, instead of coming together, America experienced maybe its most vicious election cycle in recent history, and the prolonged war on terror has only amplified that. The more we perceive violence, the more likely we are to be defensive, paranoid and skeptical of others’ motivation — exactly the mental states that lead to worse debate and poorer “tone.”
Consider the case of Dr. George Tiller. His murder was politically and religiously motivated, and was well-publicized. Yet, has debate on abortion tempered at all? I still see the same people spouting the same lines about abortion being murder, dismembered fetuses, etc. If anything, the debate degraded as a result of his murder. Those who held Tiller up as a martyr were quickly attacked for using his death politically, which of course then justified pro-lifers returning to their previous tactics.