January 10, 2011

A Perfect Storm

The only thing that surprised me about the tragic event in Tucson this past weekend was that it didn't happen sooner. My earliest memory of an historic event is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was 4-years-old at the time. Despite the fact no president has died in office since 1963, it was only about 10 years ago that I realized I no longer assumed that every President of the United States would die at the hands of an assassin.

Over an 18-year-period,  we had the assassination of JFK, then Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy, then the attempt on the life of George Wallace, two attempts on the life of President Ford and one attempt on President Reagan, which likely would have succeeded had he not been so close to a hospital.. It seemed as though the violence would never end, but it did...for awhile.

Like many Americans, I have been troubled by the political rhetoric of the past few years. Much of it seems designed to appeal specifically to people who might not be playing with a full deck. And yes, it comes from both sides of the political spectrum.

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With 435 Congressional districts, it's impossible to be familiar with all of the U.S. Representatives, but I'm sorry I had never noticed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords before tragedy struck. It seems she is truly special, and I don't think it's just because of her injuries that her colleagues are being so generous with praise for her. In the few clips I've seen of her over the past few days, it's apparent that she is articulate, intelligent, reasonable, and thoughtful.

On Friday, she sent an email to the newly appointed director of Harvard's Institute of Politics, Kentucky's current Secretary of State Trey Grayson, who is a Republican. "After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation. I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down." I like politicians who work to bridge differences and find center ground. I think we need a lot more of them and I pray Rep. Giffords makes a full recovery and is able to return to her seat and help lead us to that center ground.

Unfortunately, extremists on both the left and the right seem to have contempt for the center. And it's those extremists - on the radio, on TV, and even in our circle of friends - who are the problem. These are the people who refuse to concede any ground, who refuse to consider the other other side, and who, far too often, refuse to consider the possibility that people with whom they disagree can love our country as much as they do.

There are commentators on TV and radio who will say absolutely anything to make a buck. And when they are proven wrong - on any topic - they never admit they were wrong. They simply drop the topic and move onto something else. Meanwhile, they have riled people up. And some of the people they rile up are downright crazy.

There has been a lot of discussion about whether or not the shooter on Saturday was liberal or conservative. I don't think it matters. The guy was crazy. Sane people don't do what he did. That doesn't absolve him of responsibility but we're never going to come up with a reason that makes sense when we dealing with a mad man.

This guy began his obsession with Gabrielle Giffords before the rhetoric of the 2008 campaign heated up, and before the screaming of the Town Halls during the summer of 2009. It goes back much further than last year's map with crosshairs targeting 20 Democratic districts across the country, including that of Rep. Giffords. None of those things caused his obsession, but could they have reinforced it? Could he have seen any of those things as validation for his plan? None of us can say with any certainty, but the questions will always be there.

I suspect what happened Saturday was the result of a perfect storm. It is the price we pay for living in a free society. It is the price we pay for access to our elected officials. It is the price we pay for easy access to guns. And it is the price we pay for the irresponsible comments of politicians, as well as radio and TV personalities who choose to use speech and imagery that is equivalent of yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater.

This act of violence will not lead us to make abrupt changes limiting our access to most elected officials or guns, but there is one thing we can change starting now. We can quit providing an audience for those who choose to speak irresponsibly.

Words have consequences.

Until next time,

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. ~ Psalm 19:14 (NIV)


  1. Very well said. I didn't know of her either before Saturday, but she seems like a breath of fresh air in Washington.

  2. the days are dark, as they have ever been, because
    man's heart is filled with rage, self-centeredness,
    and murder.

    may His light shine even brighter for all the people
    injured and families of those killed.

    great article, margaret. it's as good as any i could
    have read in the 'new york times.'

  3. very well put Margaret. The sad thing is I truely belive that most people find themselves somewhere in the middle of most issues, and yet it seems like the middle is the only group that does not have a clear public voice.

    I am hearted by the reaction of the citizens of Tuscon to this tradgity. I belive they have shown the nation what it means to put politics aside to care for one another, human being to human being.

  4. i;ve been looking back through your blog and was
    happy to re-read each post. you're such a great
    writer. it also makes me happy that i think rep.
    giffords is doing well, too!

  5. Oh, my, you must be bored if you're re-reading each post!