You didn’t have to be a card-carrying genius to know that the political blame game would begin shortly after last Saturday’s tragedy in Tucson, where a shooter gunned down six people at a political rally and gravely wounded 14 others, including Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Nor did it take an expert to understand that the horrific slaughter of innocents would reopen the national debate on gun control, inspire legislation to offer greater security for lawmakers and provoke suggestions that limitations on the right of free speech in addition to those specified in the U.S. Constitution might be a swell idea.
Before the day was out the talk radio and cable television opinion purveyors were at each other’s throats. Despite the fact that the shooter’s motivations were yet to be ascertained, the left-wing pundits quickly pointed a finger at their right-wing counterparts as having provoked the shooter with their inflammatory political rhetoric. Conservative talk show hosts and commentators fired back, the Internet bloggers and the Tweeters chimed in and the controversy soon went viral.
To no one’s surprise, former Alaska governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin — whose talents include an uncanny ability to drive liberals nuts — found herself in the middle of the brawl for having run a map on her Facebook page during the 2010 midterm Congressional election campaign. By way of illustrating that the Arizona lawmaker’s district was on a target list of House seats that Republicans hoped to win, the map placed those districts, including Rep. Giffords’, in the crosshairs of a rifle. Giffords had condemned the Palin tactic in an MSNBC interview 10 months ago as having potentially dangerous consequences.
Veteran Democratic strategist Bob Beckel said he had used a similar map in national Democratic campaigns he had worked on in the past. His map employed a bull’s-eye rather than crosshairs to mark targeted districts, he told the Fox Network’s Sean Hannity, suggesting that Palin had cribbed the idea from him. But in the immediacy of the Tucson tragedy that hangs heavily upon the land the media focus was on the Palin map.
Authorities have yet to determine whether the Arizona gunman was more troubled by mental illness than motivated by political zealotry. A CBS News poll released Tuesday showed that 57 percent of Americans do not believe that harsh national political discourse in recent years had anything to do with the shootings.
In any event, it was against a backdrop of ramped-up political rhetoric that President Barack Obama went to Tucson Wednesday evening to speak at a memorial service for the victims of Saturday’s senseless violence, his goal to express America’s condolences and encourage a renewed sense of national unity.
His task was not made easy by an audience whose applause and cheering on occasion drained the event of solemnity — a strange circumstance that seemed initially to put the president ill at ease, as it no doubt did much of the national audience. But his considerable oratorical skills soon overcame the diversion, the result being arguably as fine a speech as he has made in his ceremonial role as head of state.
He came to Tucson “as one who kneels and prays with you today and will stand with you tomorrow,” President Obama told the mourners. “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it is worthy of those we have lost,” he said, in urging a “more civil and honest discourse.” What we can’t do “is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” he declared.
The president concluded his 34-minute speech by eulogizing the youngest of the six people killed — 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was born on the day of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and has become the face that lingers in the public consciousness. The precocious little girl who had taken an interest in politics was at the Tucson political event to meet Rep. Giffords, her role model.
“In Christina we see all of our children,” the president said. “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.