Monday Morning, January 17, 2011
Last week, I fully intended to write about “The King’s Speech,” a wonderfully entertaining film based on real historical events that is all about friendship and royalty and language and the power of speech. (Already, in this season of awards, it is on the top of most lists.) And then on the way home from the theater, the news reported the shooting in Tucson. Details were sketchy – a congresswoman, young, smart, a Democrat who did not fit the mold, married to an astronaut, gunned down execution style, a shot to the back of the head, along with a collection of other good people, young and old. A federal judge, too. Many dead. The perpetrator: a crazed madman.
I thought, “This is going to be big.”
Like you, I was angry. I knew enough to picture the scene; an innocent gathering of politically concerned folks speaking openly to an accessible congresswoman about issues when unprovoked, multiple staccato gunshots rang out. LeaderFOCUS became my means of expression.
So again, I knew it would be big. But now a week later, I did not imagine how big. Gabrielle Giffords’ battle for survival dominated the news for the full week. When I suggested a link between vitriol and violence, apparently, I was not alone. The question triggered controversy at every corner. I didn’t consider myself a prophet then or now, but the mere question certainly stirred up the pot. My little LeaderFOCUS got way more hits than usual – by nearly three to one.
And in the talk, the suggestion has been made that finding a link between extreme rhetoric and violence is tantamount to an accusation of cause; as in, those who spew vitriol are responsible for the violence. That one didn’t even occur to me until I saw a couple of headlines (Wall Street Journal and Washington Post) implying that liberals had blamed conservatives not for the rhetoric that creates a climate of violence, but for the tragedy itself. That’s a stretch. Some complained about Sarah Palin’s media campaign “targeting” liberals, putting them in the “crosshairs.” That the mere complaint is an assessment of blame for the shooting is missing the mark entirely. Sarah Palin didn’t pull the trigger, Jared Loughner did. Then, there was Palin’s voluntary seven-minute YouTube speech, which was conciliatory enough, until she lamented over the opposition invoking a “blood libel,” a sentence that could just have easily been omitted.
In retrospect, in the aftermath of a tragedy that touched the nation, getting to know the stories of the victims and the mind-bending cruelty of the shooter, I do wonder if I took the high road last week. True, for some time I have been looking for an opening to vent over my annoyance with much of conservative talk. At the time this seemed a fitting opportunity. Maybe even courageous. But I realize now, perhaps, that I could have deleted a few sentences of my own. Righteous indignation can sometimes be confused with empty rant.
So today, a week later, I would prefer to take that high road. There was something noble, something truly American about the response of the people of Tucson to this tragedy. The innocent smile of the nine-year old Christina Taylor Green, the recitation of the First Amendment on the floor of the House of Representatives by Congresswoman Giffords, an elderly husband shielding his wife, taking the bullets and saving her life at the expense of his own, a surgical team skillfully tending to terrible wounds; all of this and more unleashed a national civility that for the moment, melted partisan barriers, prompted a healthy national pause, toned down the heated rhetoric and reminded us of something that too often gets lost in the never-ending national debate. This young man’s assault on the Congresswoman and her friends was an assault the things we value most as a nation. And as a people, we rose to the occasion.
The perennial debates over policy and allocation of resources will certainly pick up speed again. All too soon. As we return to the business at hand, may we remember the high road.
And may we remember young Christina’s smile.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011