Monday, January 10, 2011

Thoughts on Tucson

"We are again dealing with difficulties in a contentious, partisan time. We are more connected than ever before, more able to spread our ideas and beliefs, our anger and fears. As we exercise the right to advocate our views, and as we animate our supporters, we must all assume responsibility for our words and actions before they enter a vast echo chamber and reach those both serious and delirious, connected and unhinged."

-Bill Clinton, Remembering the Oklahoma City Bombing, 2010

It seems everything old is new again.  Then again, maybe it wasn't all that old in the first place.

I have been glued to my couch this weekend following this weekend's upsetting murder of (6) people at a town hall-style event at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona.  During this event, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and is currently in critical condition.  Among those killed in the incident was Chief Judge John Roll, a 9-year old girl, one of the congresswoman's aides and (3) other attendees of the event.  This is in addition to (12) other people who were injured and are being treated.  The suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, was wrestled to the ground and is currently in custody.

No sooner did this happen, the flood gates were opened and awash with wagging fingers assigning blame.

When something like this happens, the immediate reaction is one of shock, sadness and disbelief.  After all this sets in there's the need to find a villain and squarely pin it on them.  This was the work of today and the not-so-secret word was, vitriol.

On both the left and the right claims of violence-inducing rhetoric was rampant.  Most notably, Obama's comment during the 2008 presidential race, “if they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” citing a line from The Untouchables.  To the other end of the spectrum, Sarah Palin's "In the crosshairs" electoral map (below) which lists Gabrielle Gifford as one of the "targets":

These are the ones you're probably going to hear the most about because they are boldfaced names, but this kind of thoughtless wordplay that goes on everyday.  A lot of it I have found funny in its hyperbole, like the end-of-times, self-important blow-hardness of Keith Olbermann to gun totin' campaign ads of the Midterm elections -ones like this one and this one here.

Do one of these things singularly cause acts of violence? Again, probably not.  As a collective voice, however, they speak to a broader discourse that is scary.  A life-long contrarian, I love the thrill of vigorous debate as much as the next person, but my microphone is much smaller than those of a national figure (for now).  That said, great power yields great responsibility.  The responsibility becomes far more precious as we sadly come to realize that some "unhinged" people don't realize that "take no prisoners" might just be a metaphor and not a directive for violence.

THE RESPONSE On a national level, I am very proud of the response of our representatives.  Most impressive to me as I actively consumed press conferences was the succinct sentiments expressed by House Speaker John A. Boehner, "an attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve."  That is the spirit that I feel is the most indicative of the ways that most people in America feel.  Sadly, there are those, like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik who grossly politicize a moment which deserves deference and professionalism. You'll find a clip of his showboating below:

While I may agree with the germ of what he's saying, my problem speaks to the timing and appropriateness of his comments. This at a time when so many details of the investigation were and still are preliminary. His irresponsible remarks only serve to perpetuate the problem and paint him as an amateurish political hack. Now, I am not a fan of FOX News by any stretch of the imagination, but I think this interview (while clearly slanty) illustrates his reckless abuse of his position to share a personal opinion as opposed to doing his job and reporting the facts of the case and that alone.

In the coming days, I'm sure we'll come to learn more about the case, background and motives of Loughner.  I suspect what we'll discover based on what's eeked out so far and from his YouTube videos is that this is a disaffected person with some serious mental problems.  If/when this comes to light, will it matter?  Will this singular event change the tone of the conversation?  The cynic in me says 'probably not.'  Which is probably the greatest loss of the whole awful incident.

I think the steps we can take as Americans is to acknowledge inflammatory  speech on both ends of the political spectrum for what it is and reject it -or at the very least don't perpetuate it.  When we become consumers -and we're all guilty to some degree- we move these fringe elements closer to the mainstream and provide backdoor legitimization that puts us all at risk.

So tonight I pray for all those affected by yesterday's tragedy.  I also pray for the delirious and unhinged, may they find help and achieve the peace that will make us all safer. Lastly, for each of us that we take care of one another.  The older I get, the more I come to cherish you all.

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