(Writers note: By agreement with the syndicators, these columns must wait at least a week after their newspaper release before they can be posted here which means subsequent events might make some content dated)
TEMPERING POLITICS TEMPORARILY
In the wake of the Arizona massacre, President Obama sought to quiet the bitter arguments _ and, in the process, offered a strong defense of some bitter enemies.
"It is not,” he told the nation from Tucson, "because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy. It did not."
But Obama, the subject of deeply personal attacks throughout his presidency, sought to look forward rather than re-litigate the past.
“Only a more civil, honest discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation,” he said, calling for people to begin "talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds."
If history is any guide, the president’s idealistic request will be difficult to achieve.
Look how we far apart we've split since the momentary coming together after 9/11 and the call by President Bush to "unite in our resolve for justice and peace." Look back at President Clinton's 1995 call after the Oklahoma City bombing to "purge ourselves of the dark forces which give rise to this evil.”
President Obama's plea not to use the violence as "one more occasion to turn on one another" was an eloquent contrast to the video released hours earlier by Sarah Palin, whose “crosshairs” political ads and "Don't Retreat, Instead RELOAD" rhetoric have been criticized by liberals in recent days. Palin, with what can only be described as historic heedlessness, complained about a post-massacre “blood libel” committed against conservatives. It's an odd term, since, as she should have known, it is a sensitive subject in discussions of centuries of virulent anti-semitism.
But sensitivity is not her strong suit.
Unfortunately, this preoccupation with mayhem goes much further than the reckless words and imagery of our politicians. They are are not leading us, but simply exploiting the blood lust marketed everywhere by those with a profit lust.
Although we have not begun to understand the mind of Jared Lee Loughner, the 22-year-old mass murderer who was allegedly planning to assassinate Gabby Giffords, we do know that one of his disturbing videos includes music by the group Drowning Pools, shouting "let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor, let the bodies hit the floor."
Homicidal mayhem has become a common staple of our culture, prominent in popular music and movies. So, many politicians are simply jumping on the panderwagon with their mindless sound bites and graphics.
Those of us in the commentating game are just as guilty. Some are taking heed. Others, like Rush Limbaugh, bitterly complain that all the furor is an effort by Democrats to "silence the opposition."
Question: Is it possible for political rivals to make their points in forceful, blunt and colorful ways without crossing the line into deadly metaphors? Even if Congresswoman Giffords' assailant was driven by other demons, is it truly necessary to take a chance on pushing someone over the edge?
Congressional leaders made the quick decision to postpone considering repeal of health care reform. That debate would inevitably have been bitter and personal, having been dubbed “Obamacare” by its critics. Instead, the House passed a resolution in tribute to their colleague and the other victims in Tucson.
The bipartisan resolution hailed our “democracy in which all can participate and in which intimidation and threats of violence cannot silence the voices of any American."
Right now, the voices of reason are being heard along with the usual intense and angry clamor. "If this tragedy,” said the president, "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 with the next news cycle."
The Obama speech continues the tradition of a president leading the nation in mourning and introspection, like President Reagan after the Challenger explosion and President Bush after 9/11. For some, it will be an inspiration. To others, it will quickly fade into memory as the next political “war” begins.