Monday, January 17, 2011

...It Must Not Break the Bonds of Our Affection...

Cong. Giffords (wikipedia)
A Special Editor’s (Extended) Note:

It has been just over a week since a mad gunman ripped apart a scene that illustrates one of the central tenets of our democracy.  After an initial rash of caustic finger-pointing and demands that we learn something it, the country might actually be able to start the healing process.

Sarah Palin did not bring this tragedy upon Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the six who lost their lives and the other twelve that were injured.  Any direct or even indirect blame was not fair to her or to the others on the right that have spoken in strident, even violent rhetoric over the past two years.  In the immediate aftermath at least some of those attempting to come to grips with the tragedy were acting out of shocked delirium.  Others, though just as horrified very likely jumped to the conclusion that this was part and parcel of the rising tide of an overly vitriolic political environment.

Frank Rich (NY Times)
Frank Rich, a New York Times columnist, wisely noted that in the aftermath of the shooting, the left scrubbed their own overly violent rhetoric while the right vociferously denied that anything they said or did could even be criticized lest the First Amendment be threatened.  While the left’s attack was dishonest and the right’s defense disingenuous, what Rich felt spurred this reaction was the undeniable fact that regardless of blame, there had been a rising tide of violence emanating from the right, not unlike the violence that came from the left in the 60’s.  It has gotten bad enough that even Fox's Shepard Smith and conservative David Frum have noted and/or criticized it.

To name a few events, some Rich mentioned and others mentioned here: the vandalism of Cong. Giffords office following health care reform; a man has been arrested for threatening Cong. Jim McDermott of Seattle; death threats against Sen. Patty Murray D-WA escalated to the point that a man was sent to jail for the incendiary remarks; a man flew a plane into an IRS building.  The list goes on.  These events share a common thread: anti-government sentiments common among the hard-core conservative right.  Again, nobody is saying (and if they are, then they wrong) that one does not have the right to complain, be angry or be passionate in their objections.  However, must the pitch and tone be such that in the words of Cong. Neal everything’s “Armageddon”?

While Sarah Palin’s crosshairs map paired against the infamous tweet, “Don’t retreat…RELOAD!” were, to be kind, pushing the envelope, they in all likelihood had no apparent role in Jared Loughner's attack.  Indeed, we might assume his grudge predated Sarah Palin’s entrance to the stage.  Rather than merely condemning the wisdom of her map, while noting her innocence (or at least guilt no greater than any other actor in the political scene, left or right), many leapt right on her.  Some were more measured and again I would mention Keith Olbermann’s wholesale condemnation or violence and violent rhetoric, which included his own.

Tina Fey (wikipedia)
As such Sarah Palin had plenty of reason to be upset when she finally responded to the tragedy with her eight minute video.  Many were wondering if Sarah Palin would respond in such a way that would elevate her above the rut of unpopularity that has plagued her ever since Tina Fey donned her persona.  Still, a mere five days after a bullet went through a Congresswoman’s brain, the former Alaska governor three quarters of her video licking her own wounds.  Less than two minutes of that eight minute video even discussed the victims and Cong. Giffords name was mentioned sparingly.  Let’s leave the unfortunate blood-libel thing for others to discuss.

As Frank Rich noted, Palin’s comments about tone and stridency not being new is correct, however, there is the problem with the megaphone of the Internet turning everything into “Armageddon.”  Where Palin went off the reservation, however was the notion that exercising a First Amendment right to criticize one’s free speech runs afoul of free speech.  Since when was it un-American to question what Sarah Palin believes when she is questioning what I believe?  That said, since when, regardless of history, is it wrong to say that violent terminology may not be serving our politics or our nation well?

Artist's Rendering of Park51 Ctr (wikipedia)
What may be the most damning aspect of her diatribe was the least discussed.  While she vigorous defended the first amendment, she seemingly felt different where the Lower Manhattan mosque was concerned.  The First Amendment’s free speech keeps her above reproach, but Muslim’s are making a mockery of the country by building a mosque near Ground Zero—just like the other two already in close proximity.  Though its planners are well within their right to build it, is that Downtown Islamic Center in the best of taste so close to the World Trade Center?  Maybe not.  But then again, neither are crosshairs over Congressional districts egged on with "reload".

Comments on blogs and articles about Palin’s speech grumbled that liberals would not have liked what Palin had said regardless.  That may be true, but the complaint would have been different and very probably groundless had she written a different speech.  Allow me to illuminate one reason why I think many liberals dislike Palin. 

In Palin’s world, life is just too simple that is as opposed to complex.  All of life’s answers, both political and otherwise, are just staring us in the face or at the very least in Palin’s.  All we need to do is see what Sarah sees.  Complex solutions only add to the problem.  They just are not the decisive touch we need.  Whether it is simply cut taxes or fire bureaucrats or something equally basic.  In my short life, I have learned that none of life’s problems can be so easily reduced to such easy solutions, whether it is dealing with the a friend‘s betrayal, losing a family member or taking on more debt to finish school.

I am thankful that life is not like that.  If all of our human problems could be solved with such glib answers and not the struggle, hardship, and tough choices that defines it, life may not have much if any meaning at all.  I do not want to live in Sarah Palin’s America or her world because there everything is convenient and our choices devoid of any significance.

President & First Lady Obama in Tuscon (wikipedia)
And so we must move on to President Barack Obama's speech  in Tucson last Wednesday.  Scripture tells us that God wishes that we look to him as children, with that innocent reverence and respect.  Thais is not all that unlike how Obama noted how Christina Green looked at public life in America.  We should live a bit more like that.

The president's speech disputed any notions that rhetoric caused this tragedy, but also did not dismiss the importance of such an examination.  Using words that conservatives should love, he noted that how we treat each other "is entirely up to us."  Indeed, the president's speech was resoundingly praised, most notably from the right.  While some grumbled that it had a pep rally feel (at a college campus and in a place where people want to feel better, it can be forgiven) and others said he should have given this type of speech sooner, the compliments still came in.  Even Glenn Beck, who wished that Obama gave the speech on the day of the tragedy could not help but offer a positive assessment.  John McCain, true to the old McCain we once knew, also praised the speech wholeheartedly in a Washington Post editorial.

The Late Gabe Zimmerman (NY Times)
To live up to "our children’s expectations," we need to be able to communicate with one another with respect and humanity.  That does not mean we cannot have intense passionate debates, but it does mean that we have to try with all our might to treat one another with respect.  Perhaps we might even learn something from each other.

If nothing else comes of this, perhaps it may begin to change this terrible view we have developed in this country about public service, the Massachusetts Probation Department, notwithstanding.  The anti-government rhetoric or vitriol has had the deleterious effect of dehumanizing the people in the public sector in some of the worst ways possible.

The Late John Roll (wikipedia)
Two stories from Tucson leave me hopeful.  The first recalls two of the dead.  Judge John Roll spent the last twenty years on the federal bench in Arizona.  He took up many contentious cases, but by all accounts he always adjudicated them fairly.  Also killed was Gabe Zimmerman who as Giffords outreach director helped Arizonans in the Eighth Congressional District navigate the federal bureaucracy.  Who would dare accuse these two of being the loathsome sloths that public servants are often so described?

The other story is happier.  The President announced to resounding applause that Giffords had opened her eyes in the presence of her friends from Congress.  Cong. Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Shultz and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand were present when it happened.  The latter two were good friends of Cong. Giffords, often vacationing or double-dating together.  These women were friends and real people.  That they met in the halls of power should do nothing to diminish them or that they share a friendship and a humanity so universal that nearly all of us experience it or can relate.

Cong. Giffords with Cong. Wasserman Schultz (Miami Herald)
In seeing the service and dedication in the dead and the love and humanity among the living, maybe we can modulate, not censor, our political discourse such that we can compromise and move the country forward.  I happen to know first hand that it is possible.

If you are reading this there is very good chance that you are familiar with the valley blogosphere.  It represents a diversity of opinion and beliefs from Jerold Duquette, Maureen Turner, and in times past Heather Brandon to Bill Dusty and Tommy Devine.  However, one thing that we all share is a respect for one another.  I disagree with them, but we also cooperate a lot.

We agree about Springfield and what it needs quite often.  During the 2009 Springfield election, I consulted Dusty frequently.  But when Dusty had written a critical article about NPR in the wake of the Juan Williams fiasco, Maureen Turner and I offered defenses for NPR, while praising some of Dusty’s points.  Some outside comments were more shrill, but among the three of us it was civil even though we disagreed.  When Tommy Devine commented on Democrat-dominated corruption at City Hall, I (inadvertently as anonymous) protested noting the recent employment of Bruce Stebbins, a Republican.  This prompted Devine to note that Springfield was stumbling in the right direction, an apt description, no joke (or sarcasm).  Duquette commented on a WMassP&I post on the D.A’s race and he brought to light some facts about which I was not aware.

If we diverse bloggers, no less passionate than any on the right or left can agree and, even work together, certainly the millions of Americans that share our various viewpoints can do the same.  Dialogue is important and it is that free and open exchange of ideas, not personal attacks, that has made this nation a wonderful and unique place.

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