Wednesday, January 12, 2011

On America’s Enduring Strength, Blood Libel, and Good Ol' Fashioned Blame

Hmm. So, Sarah Palin has addressed the nation regarding the rhetoric spewed since the tragedy in Tucson, AZ. I watched a video of this address online and listened to it in awe and wonder. Given the never-ending political rhetoric -- which is something you can count on much like death and taxes -- I just had to exercise my rights under our freedom of expression to express my individual opinion.

I'm trying not to imagine what would've happened had some of the circumstances been different. And in all fairness, there is no one person to blame.

Sarah Palin, January 12, 2011

Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday and my heart broke for the innocent victims. No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for victim’s families as we express our sympathy. I agreed with the sentiments shared yesterday at the beautiful Catholic Mass held in honor of the victims. The mass will hopefully, begin the healing process for the families touched by this tragedy, and, for our country. (Surely any services held by other religions are unimportant.)

Our exceptional country, so vibrant with ideas and passionate exchange of ideas, it’s a light to the rest of the world. (You betcha.. no way that light is dimmed by all those United States citizens who travel abroad and express surprise when they don't encounter English in their travels.) Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange their ideas that day. To celebrate our republic’s core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It’s inexcusable, and incomprehensible, why a single, evil (white) man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.

There’s a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.

Like many, I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on what happened, praying for guidance. After the shocking tragedy I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now, with sadness to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event. President Reagan said we must reject the idea that every time a law is 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 (because it is oh so easy for those of us in power to ignore how much influence we have over individuals). They begin and end with the criminals who commit them. Not collectively, with all the citizens of the state. Not with those who listen to talk radio (which spews hateful rhetoric about people who simply disagree with them or are different than them). Not those 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. (And certainly not with citizens who break out in fights at certain politicized gatherings, especially those sensationalized by a certain party.) Not with those who proudly voted in the last election (who were solely informed by sound bites).

The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. Now President Obama and I may not agree on everything but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our republic. Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions. And after the election, we shake hands and we get back to work. (And then, after the emotions subside, we resume the mudslinging.) And often both sides find some common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere (but when we don't like the outcome of something, we'll keep changing our opinion and show our true colors especially with regards to discrimination in the military). If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country (you know, like those activist judges out there) you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas (especially when you are a rich, white heterosexual who spews rhetoric about politically unpopular groups) 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 that they purport to condemn. That, is reprehensible (because quite a bit of was directed at me, I have absolutely no role in all this!).

There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged apparently apolitical criminal (because it is oh so easy to ignore our role in society and our indirect influence on it, and some of our meddlesome citizens surely had no role in the way gays are treated in Uganda). And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those clam days when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world, all discourse would be civil and all disagreements, cordial. But our founding fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels (do angels exist in all religions?) there would be no need for government. Our founders’ genius was to design a system that helped the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways (you know, that system which allows us to come up with confusing rules and allows us to add all this wonderful pork to legislation.. who the hell cares about the needs of the many). So we must condemn violence if our republic is to endure (except when it affects a politically unpopular group). As I said, while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, I said we know violence isn’t the answer, when we take up our arms, we’re talking about our vote. Yes, our debates are full of passion (and sometimes fights do break out, but we won't talk about that) but we settle our political differences respectfully, at the ballot box, as we did just two months ago and as our republic enables us to do again in the next election. And the next. (and yes, both parties sometimes use tactics to keep people from ever reaching the polls.) That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis but of our enduring strength, it is part of why America is exceptional. No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent. And we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. (Except when it is directed at politically unpopular groups.) And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differring opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults. (Oh yes - we'll continue to be intolerant of certain politically unpopular groups, you know who you are, you don't deserve the right to the civil contract portion of marriage.)

Just days before she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords read the First Amendment on the floor of the House, and it was a beautiful moment and more than simply symbolic as some claim to have our Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just symbolic. But just less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech that he found offensive. It is in the hour when our values our challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values. Recall how the events of 911 challenged our values and we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security, and so it is today. Let us honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded and let us pray for our country (but who cares about those of you who don't pray because you don't practice religion). In times like these we need God’s guidance and the peace he provides (because don't cha know, the Catholic god is the one true god.. who care about all those other religions..). We need strength to not let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves or weaken our solid foundation. (Besides, we do a good enough job doing so with all this political rhetoric anyway.) Or, provide a pretext to stifle debate (hey! what was all that ruckus about supermajorities and filibusters!). America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week, we are better than the mindless finger pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country (especially if you are a rich, white, heterosexual). Yes, may God bless America.

Tornado Rainbow Triangle