Thursday, January 13, 2011

Responses to Tucson

It’s almost as if President Obama and Sarah Palin were talking to each other through their respective speeches yesterday:


"What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. 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’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."

"But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."

"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 happen to think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

"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. "

"President Reagan said, 'We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.' Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election"

This last point by Palin is surprising to me, given how easily she conflates Muslims with terrorists. If she really believes that acts of criminality begin and end with those who commit them, then all this hubbub about the not-Mosque at not-Ground Zero was just a bunch of political theater. And how can journalists incite such criminality if it begins and ends with the criminal?

The reason for the illogic is that it isn't really true. Criminal acts are a combination of individual action and the environment that surrounds someone. Individuals need to be accountable for their actions, but there is a shared responsibility when things like this happen. If we don’t question environmental and cultural factors and work to change them for the better, then we run the risk that these kinds of tragedies continue to repeat themselves with other individuals who are in the same environment or have the same kinds of mental illnesses.

So, there might not be a direct link between our current state of political vitriol and this shooting. On the other hand, targeting a politician is by definition a political act. The guy was not so crazy that his violence was random. It was directed at a politician who he thought was evil. Whether or not specific words reached him isn’t the point. The point is that we should all now recognize how careful we should be with our rhetoric, because it reaches the crazy people too.

The main thing we need to do is learn how to criticize and debate without demonizing. It’s something I don’t always succeed at. But, once again, Barack Obama demonstrates that he is a better person than I am. A better Christian, even. I’ve been angry at him over the last two years for his various compromises and caves he has agreed to. But he just turns the other cheek and moves forward. He encourages us to be our best selves.  To look for unity when it is easier to point fingers and be divisive.

I wish I could say that everyone who spoke yesterday was as grace-filled, and as Christian. I wish I could say it for myself on most days.


lls said...

I've really struggled in all of this to not demonize and dismiss those who seem to, well, demonize and dismiss. But Jon Stewart had a good point in last night's show, something to the effect that if your best defense is that the other side is doing something just as base, that's no defense at all. We all are better than this. We all can do better.

Though when Sarah Palin used the phrase "blood libel" it totally reminded me of Inigo Montoya: "I do not think that word means what you think it means."

Fingtree said...

I'm glad you used the collate between Palin and Obama. Sarah Palin used this situation with a presentation that reflects her as President. Who the hell does she think she is? What a pretentious fame whore! Look no further for the answers to this tragedy than with the victim herself: Gabby Gifford. It's her words alone that tell the tale and draw the lines of responsibility. She had said during the campaign last year, that Palin's actions and words come with consequences;
In Ms. Giffords’ words: “things for example we’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the thing is, that the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun-sight over our district, and when people do that, they have to realize there are consequences to that action.” and her email on the eve of her shooting to Trey Greyson: "After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation," Giffords wrote in the email, provided to CNN by Grayson. "I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down".
Enough said. Any attempts to spin this by the right or Sarah Palin, AM radio etc., is nothing more than defensive justification. Gabby Giffords' prophetic words trump everyone with this issue. There is nothing to argue~

An element that is missed in this issue has been mental health. Mental health has been put out the wayside for years in this country, neglected, under funded and purposefully overlooked. Pharmaceutical pills have replaced mental health structure and treatment, very sad.

Dan S said...

Yeah, I hate it when I get outclassed by Jon Stewart. Actually, I don't like being outclassed by anyone, and yet it seems to happen all the time.

And Fingtree, you're right about mental health being the missing issue in this. Mental health and gun control...

Robert Sievers said...


Sarah Palin wanted no part of this, but the liberal bloggers dragged her into it in an attempt to "not let a good crisis go to waste".

And Dan, I was happy to see Obama denouncing the kind of rhetoric that was blaming right wing people, when in fact, this guy was an apolitical mentally ill person. It only took Obama two years to try to unite instead of polarize.

And yes, we need to think about gun control. Had someone else in the room been armed as well, they could have dropped this guy before he killed so many people. Perhaps then the next person thinking about such a horrific act would think twice.

Fingtree said...

"Had someone else in the room been armed as well"

By that logic, if Christina Taylor Green (the 9 year old girl) was armed, then she could have; "dropped this guy before he killed so many others"?

Like I said Bob, there is nothing to argue. As Gabby Gifford said herself; "there are consequences" and Sarah Palin has felt the sting of them. Please tell me what the difference is between someone like Jesse Jackson and Sarah Palin?

Dan S said...

A bystander there *was* armed, and very nearly shot the guy who grabbed the gun from the killer. If everyone having guns is some kind of deterrent, then Arizona would be the last place to do something like this, where people can carry guns anytime and anywhere they want.

And of course Sarah Palin wanted no part of this. That would require self-reflection and accountability on her part. She apparently has no interest in stopping her own demonization of political opponents.

PG said...

Patton Oswalt tweeted the following lines from Sarah Palin's "blood libel" video:

1. "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and
end with the criminals who commit them."

...2. "Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn."

Which one is it, Ms. Palin, you narcissistic dunderhead?"

PG said...

And Keith Olbermann posted the following tweet about Sarah Palin: The 'my words have no consequences but words ABOUT my words can incite violence' claim is laugh out loud funny.

But I'm not laughing. I'm tired of living in Alice in Wonderland in Hell. I wonder what the health law debate is going to be like...

Robert Sievers said...

So much for civil discourse.

mennomom said...

Thank you Dan for your thoughtful post. I agree that acts of violence such as the Tuscon tragedy, while perpetrated by an individual acting alone, are part of a national climate in which violent acts are somehow justified in various ways, and in which even the language uses words figuratively which, taken literally, denote a violent act. I winced when I first read, in the sports section of the local weekly, how many "kills" were executed by a player during a volleyball game. I can't help but think that over time, this works itself into our very soul and becomes part of our national psyche. So we end up in a place we don't want to be because we were not paying attention to the direction in which we were going. I'm naive enough to think that there is still time to listen to our own better angels and turn around. This being Sunday, of all people, Christians claiming to follow Jesus should be leading the way.

Fingtree said...

Yeah, Dick Cheney, Jesus and Mama Grizzly 'leading the way'! Charge!!
Bob, how much ($) for civil discourse? How many more head stamping/violent killings does it take to heed the warnings of a victim like Gabby Gifford?

PG said...

There can be no civil discourse because there can be no discourse at all when people insist on believing lies and outright falsehoods and blatant contradictions of fact and history. People use violent rhetoric because they have no truth to stand on. They attack. Obama is brilliant in his ability to avoid such pointless confrontations, even when he is the victim of such attacks. That is why he exemplifies hope and inspires.

Robert Sievers said...

pg, I couldn't agree more. There can be no civil discourse while lies are believed and history is rewritten by those who want to serve their own agenda at all costs. Thanks for admitting this.

Fingtree said...

So Bob, you agree that Obama is brilliant and that he exemplifies hope and inspires?! Thanks for admitting that.

Dan S said...

Prime example of "There can be no civil discourse while lies are believed and history is rewritten by those who want to serve their own agenda at all costs" :

"It only took Obama two years to try to unite instead of polarize."
-Bob Sievers

Robert Sievers said...

Just watched Sarah Palin's response to the all the double standards. She knocked it out of the park, and made Obama look like an empty suit.

PG said...

Stab at damage control for the besotted base.

PG said...

Again, the words of others:

Fingtree said...

It's not hard to do when your within the safety net and comfort zone of your employer's network. Just like her original response to the tragedy that Colbert coined; "From the state of the living room address". Always without a challenge. Republican's and their base always lowers the bar and Fox news accomodates, dumbing down America!

brownie said...

I like butterflies.