Rep. James Clyburn said it is impossible not to connect fiery campaign rhetoric to the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
The number three-ranking House Democrat invoked the rhetoric of a Tea Party Senate candidate in describing the actions of the man accused of shooting Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Clyburn was channeling the words of Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who challenged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last year.
"I'm hoping that we're not getting to Second Amendment remedies. I hope the vote will be the cure for the Harry Reid problems," she said.
Clyburn, who has long supported the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine requiring equal time on the airwaves, said that could be a solution to tamp down heightened rhetoric.
"Free speech is as free speech does," he said. "You cannot yell ‘fire' in a crowded theater and call it free speech and some of what I hear, and is being called free speech, is worse than that."
Clyburn's remarks highlight the ongoing debate over whether political vitriol surrounding the highly charged 2010 midterm elections were connected to the shooting of Giffords. Liberals have said statements from Republicans such as former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and Angle have inflamed political debate, increasing the likelihood of violence.
Some conservatives have criticized those making these arguments, saying both sides use fiery rhetoric. Conservative pundit William Kristol on Monday compared attacks on Palin on McCarthyism. Palin targeted Giffords for political defeat, using a website with graphics that put some congressional districts in crosshairs.
At least one of Clyburn's Democratic colleagues in the House has said that the Giffords shooting should not become a political football.
"I think it's unfortunate that people are trying to make this a left versus right thing," Blue Dog Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah) said on KSL Radio on Monday.
"Anger and vitriol" is "as high as it's ever been," he said. But he cautioned that people should "be careful not to overreact in that regard."