The assassination attempt on the life of Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, abhorrent as it is, did not really come as a surprise.

Ms. Giffords herself has been warning of the dire consequences that could follow from inflaming the national debate with vitriol that could logically have only one end result. It is ironic that it is she who has become the example of what that vitriol can produce.

It is part of our democratic fabric that we are vigorous in our national discourse of issues that matter to us. Historically, some of this discourse has led to confrontation of one kind or other, even to the point of a civil war. So the robust debate over the Affordable Care Act – healthcare reform – that consumed the country was not unusual.

But what was especially remarkable was the willingness of some politicians to grossly exaggerate and blatantly distort the effects which the law would have in a way that roused passions to a dangerous level. The cynical disregard for truth and the necessity for reasoned citizens to behave in a reasonable manner was so ominous that it posed a threat – which was clearly foreseeable – to the basic underpinning of our democracy: that we seek to arrive at consensus as the way toward enhancing our republic.

The diatribe was taking place at a time after some segments of the nation had awakened to find a black man had been elected President, much to their outrage. The so-called “birthers” – those who refuse to believe that Barack Hussein Obama is American-born – have continued to reinforce the sentiment that the presidency is being held illegitimately.

The passions stoked by the healthcare reform debate and the persistent denial of the legitimacy of the Obama Administration have been finding fertile ground in the grave economic distress of the times and consequential horrendous unemployment and home foreclosures.

If there has been any time when reasonable people, especially those in positions of leadership – given or assumed – should have behaved reasonably, this was it. But it did not happen.

Whether or not the suspect in Ms. Giffords’ shooting, Mr. Jared Loughner, was inspired to try to kill her by the dangerous rhetoric that has been enveloping the nation is relevant only in that some can claim it proves their point. But the point is that it does not take a rocket scientist to appreciate that there are among us Americans who will feel compelled – duty-bound, in fact — to rid the country of those who they are led to think are unworthy of the positions they hold.

That, in essence, is the moral of this national tragedy – that there are those who have been willing to be irresponsible, with a cynical disregard for the consequences of their irresponsibility.

That must stop.