Welch Says Shootings Highlight Toxic Political Atmosphere

01/10/11 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords will shine a light on the harmful effects of using angry and violent language as part of the country's political debate.

Welch says both Republicans and Democrats are responsible for creating such a toxic political atmosphere.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Welch says the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords is "a devastating personal blow" because they've worked together on a number of issues over the last 4 years.

Welch says the intensity of political debate in this country has gotten out of control in recent years.  While he says it's difficult to cite this as factor in this shooting, he says this development has been very detrimental to the political system.

(Welch) "It creates a sense of anger and you had some politicians talking about bullets not ballots. I mean things like that are obviously provocative and hurtful - they're harmful to maintaining civility in a democratic society."

(Kinzel) While some groups are blaming conservative Republicans for the escalation of hateful and angry debate, Welch says some Democrats are also guilty.

(Welch) "You can come up with examples on both sides and you can have an argument about who does more of it and how much of it is from the vitriol you hear on the talk radio shows, but if we try to get into the assignment of blame I don't know that we'll end up making much progress."

(Kinzel) Welch says Vermont has been relatively free of the politics of hate and he thinks it serves as a model for the nation.

(Welch) "I think that Vermont does have an enormous amount to offer to the rest of the country about the way Vermonters go about their political debate. Vermonters are extremely passionate about issues but civility matters and Vermonters understand that."

(Kinzel) The House was scheduled this week to debate a repeal of the health care reform law. That vote has now been postponed for at least a week.

(Welch) "I don't expect that this massacre is going to change anybody's vote on health care but I do hope it's going to affect everyone's tone. That all of us will be as passionate in our point of view as we were but that we will refrain from any kind of ad hominine arguments characterizing or vilifying the people we disagree with as having any motivations purer than ours."

(Kinzel) Later this week, Congressional leaders will consider several plans to provide more security to members of Congress. Welch says he's hoping that the proposal won't make it more difficult for him to interact with Vermonters.

(Welch) "I've got to tell you, my personal experience in Vermont with the nearly 100 ‘Congress in your communities' that I've done have been very positive but I'm not the security expert. On a personal level, talking directly to Vermonters has always been one of the best experiences."

(Kinzel) Welch says the shooting shouldn't be used to promote new federal gun control laws.  He argues these laws should be developed on a state by state basis.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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