Words. Just words.
Yesterday, Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to the House floor for the first time since the horrific January 8, 2011 Tucson massacre.
She received a warm, bipartisan, prolonged standing ovation. It was a nice moment.
But also a surreal one.
As you’ll recall, within minutes of the shooting, Tea Party-bashing, Palin-bashing recriminations and accusations clogged the Internet and airwaves.
As you’ll recall, President Obama brought his campaign to Tucson and gave a national sermon about the need for civility. We’re One America. Together We Thrive. And all that:
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.
Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.
For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.
So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.
But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
But over the course of the debt-limit negotiations, the preponderance of unhinged, blame-assigning, violent image-invoking rhetoric has come from the White House and its allies — from the president himself accusing Republicans of holding a gun to the head of the American people, to Steny Hoyer using Russian roulette imagery, to the latest outbreak of Tea Party = suicide bombers, fraggers, jihad, and terrorists.
At 12:15pm Eastern, after the Senate finishes voting, President Obama is scheduled to give a statement in the Rose Garden on the debt deal.
I will remember his words from January. Will he?
If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.
Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.
The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better, to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and co-workers and parents.
And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy — it did not — but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.
We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.
They believe — they believe and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here, they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.
And I believe that, for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina-Taylor Green believed.
Imagine — can you imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy, just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship, just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future.
She had been elected to her student council. She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations.
I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us, we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
From comments, MChristian writes: “Yesterday on Ace of Spades, I saw the newly coined word, Tearrorist. I like it and I’m going to start using it.”
Townhall’s Guy Benson notes that no less than four New York Times columnists have attacked conservatives and Tea Party activists as terrorists over the past week.
Update: The Senate passed the debt limit increase deal. Obama took to the Rose Garden immediately after to exult about new “investments.” The White House announced at approx. 2:05pm Eastern that the deal had been signed into law by the president himself.
The Autopen is apparently on vacay, along with the Democrat civility police.
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