Monday, January 17, 2011

Where Do We Go From Here?

In the aftermath of the tragedies in Arizona last week, President Obama came to Tucson and tried to heal a nation.  Obviously troubled, and working hard to control his emotions, he painted a picture of the victims and put a much needed human face on each person.  To him, these were not nameless statistics, but ordinary Americans doing ordinary things on a Saturday morning.   He and First Lady Michelle struggled against tears when he spoke of the death of Christina Green, (the nine year-old girl so close in age to their own daughters).  Members of the audience at the memorial service shared in these raw emotions.  He spoke of the need to come together and soften our voices and about caring for one another.  At a time when such healing words were necessary, his rhetorical skills were a balm for the wounds of a nation, one which has seen far too many similar sad scenes of mass gun violence by disturbed or delusional men with easy access to weapons of death.  As he indicated, this is a question that we, as a country, must address rationally.  He asked that we talk in a way that heals and not in a way that wounds.  Sounding at times like a wounded parent or a pleading preacher he asked for America to reach for its better nature.  Surely this cannot be too difficult for our country.

The attendees at the service were seemingly on an emotional edge. Tucson was noted to be reeling from the unexpected violence in its midst.  The President noted that he had visited the wounded who were still hospitalized and seen Congresswoman Giffords, who was looking better.  After he further indicated, that during this visit with her Congressional colleagues, she opened her eyes for the first time since her surgery, the arena unexpectedly erupted in cheers.  Those in attendance appeared eager for some good news.  There were members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican in attendance, Supreme Court Justice Kennedy and retired Justice Sandra Day O'Conner, an Arizona resident, and members of the medical team also were in the audience.   And like the audience, those in the Safeway parking lot that day reflected America.  Mark Shields, speaking on PBS News Hour remarked that only in America would a Catholic Republican Judge stop by to see a Democratic Jewish woman member of Congress to thank her for her service.  She would be rescued by a gay Mexican-American student intern and operated upon by a Korean-American Trauma surgeon.  A former Marine colonel and a white haired woman would be among those who tackled the shooter.  It so does take a village to make a community.

The President also called for greater civility and more civil discourse.  Whether or not that will happen remains to be seen.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ), in an op-ed in the Washington Post wrote about being at the memorial service and spoke about the correctness of the tone of voice from the President.   Senator McCain even brought out the Biblical "Golden Rule" as a basis for balanced discussions amongst politicians.  He urged treatment toward others to include empathy and mutual respect, even while acknowledging that he and the President have differences of opinion.

McCain indicated that he knew the President to be both a patriot and a legitimate leader and decried those who did not give him the respect due his office.  He supported these words of healing and urged others to do the same.  We do need more civic and political leaders to echo these remarks.  On the other hand, Sarah Palin, in a message that was tone deaf to the pain of a nation, chose the day of mourning to appear in a slickly scripted taped video to address the criticism she had received for the targeted gun-sight map of Giffords and her congressional race in 2010.  No one has said that she put the gun in the hands of a disturbed young man, but her words and actions during the campaign did coarsen the debate in the country at-large and at Tea Party gatherings.  Unfortunately to many, her words were seen as angry, self-centered, defensive and ill-timed.  Several elected officials in the Republican Party disassociated themselves from her remarks.  Ultimately, she waited too long to speak out and sent the wrong message.

Where do we go from here?  Do we look at sensible gun laws?  Unfortunately, shortly after these shootings sales of extended clips rose precipitously.  But really, even the police, who use Glocks, do not carry such clips, so they cannot be of much use to enforce laws.  Extended clips are not for self defense, they are for killing large numbers of people.  We need to restore the assault rifle ban and deny the use of these clips.  Will the Federal government assess the lacks in the national mental health system and push to enhance care options?  Will the states support such efforts?  The National Health care reform act is scheduled to be re-opened in the Congress this week.  This debate will be the first of many that may test the boundaries for civility in the Congress this year.  Let us all keep our fingers crossed. 

Please let me know what you think.

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