Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thriving in Tuscon

Tucson, Arizona, is one of my favorite cities. I like it because it is the home of Carl Joseph Seat Daoust (3), my grandson, as well as his mother, my daughter Karen, and her husband Rob.
For quite some time Karen has been a big admirer of Gabrielle Giffords, who is just twenty days older than her and the U.S. Representative for the district where she previously lived. On January 12, Karen stood in line for hours and attended the “Together We Thrive” memorial service held at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus where she is a professor.
What a shock it was when I heard about the Tucson tragedy! Thankfully, Rep. Giffords is steadily recovering, but six others were killed in the senseless shooting. And the “talking heads” of the nation have made charges and counter-charges about the political climate lying behind the acts of the killer. But who knows why he did what he did.
It is hard to think his act was not related to politics, though, as his primary target was the Congresswoman. And she was a representative who was severely criticized by some people in Tucson because of her vote for the health care legislation last March. In fact, a few hours after that vote, her Tucson office was vandalized.
A few days later she said on a TV interview, “…we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, the way she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gunsight over our district. And when people do that, they’ve gotta realize there’s consequences to that action.”
The sheriff of Pima County, where Tucson is located, echoed those words after the shooting. He said, “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.” He went on to declare, “That may be free speech, but it’s not without consequences.”
In his moving speech at the Jan. 12 memorial service, President Obama rightly said that “we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.” And then he implored, “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s 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 that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
The President went on to say, “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.” I would like to think that is true. If it is, not only can Tucson thrive, but so can the whole nation.
Let’s use the tragedy of Tucson as a spur toward greater civility in all our speech, toward more respect even for those who strongly disagree with us, and toward enhanced decency and generosity of spirit in all our relationships.


  1. I believe everyone wants the rhetoric to be lowered. This current lull was toned down only because a member of Congress was attacked and wounded. It will thrive again.

    All too soon everyone in the House and many in the Senate will realize that their elections and that for a President is next year. I hope all those involved in campaigns will be more respectful in their speech and actions.

    This respect includes responsibility. Public figures like Sarah Palin don't need "targeted" lists. Talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck don't need to be so inflamatory.

    We all need to keep in mind that most Americans respond to things that are sensationalized in the media. Plenty of surveys reveal that voters are more responsive to negative ads than positive ones.

    So not only do the attitudes and behaviors of politicians and their strategists have to change, we also have to change.

    Yesterday, while driving home in that awful snowstorm, a person passed me on my left, where there is still an Obama for President bumper sticker on my back window. His passenger window was lowered and he was screaming/repeating at the top of his lungs, "F**k Obama!" That person has a lot of pent up emotions if he feels the need to do that when driving conditions were so poor.

    Thank you for calling us to an "enhanced decency and generosity of spirit."

  2. I remember a few years back when, in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, speculation began to bubble up that Arab terrorists might well be at fault. Well, that soon changed when it turned out that the horror was quite American born. Timothy McVeigh was not what was expected.

    Politically motivated attacks happen just frequently enough to always haunt us. Everyone knows about John Wilkes Booth. More frequent are attacks with a hint of politics, but no logical connection. Remember Squeaky Fromm and John Hinckley? Indeed, psychosis seems far more connected to these attacks than politics.

    The real question Tucson leaves us is what we are going to do with the many deranged and potentially dangerous individuals among us. They may sometimes seem leftist or rightist, but mostly, they just seem crazy. Will we keep ignoring the mentally challenged until they prove themselves dangerous? Will we try to approach them with services? Will we try to keep dangerous weapons out of their hands? Will we just lock them up and throw away the keys? Politics is just a distraction in dealing with these questions. Perhaps a welcome distraction to some. For a serious Christian, I believe it is something more. What would Jesus do?

  3. Craig, you raise significant questions that at this point I don't know how to answer. At the very least, though, surely we need to keep dangerous weapons out of their hands. And it is probably going to take some legislation to deal with the problem, so politics are more than a distraction. -- Leroy

  4. Commendable comments from a local TF:

    "I think the mix of politically inflammatory rhetoric and mentally unstable minds has all the ingredients of a poisonous, dangerous stew. Considering that kid knew who his representative was, puts him way ahead of most kids his age. He was a loaded gun ready to be shot. And that's what happened."

  5. Craig Dempsey's comment seems very accurate. Also too close to home, having encountered those with mental instability both as clients and within family - not politically related, but rather hereditary chemical imbalance or post traumatic syndrome. Without an intentional means to address mental illness in our land, bad things will happen. Insurance does not handle much, neither does medicaid or ssi.

    I commend Rep Giffords for going out and meeting her constituents in public. This is necessary if our representatives are to properly represent us. Despite the assassinations since the founding of our republic, direct, non-threatening public contact must remain. I have felt the threat of being accosted by body guards of a political bureaucrat (of whom I thought highly). If we are to remain a representative republic, representatives must remain citizens - one of us. This is a necessary evil. This spoken as one who has looked down the barrel of a gun three times, probably four - once by a mugger, the rest by those in government service.