Opportunities in Tragedy

Posted by on Jan 14th, 2011 and filed under Congress, Politics, Presidency. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry from your site

Within a few minutes of the Arizona shooting, politicians rushed to shove shooter Jared Loughner into the political camp of their opponents. With no motive, no warning, not even a name, the opportunity to make the murders of (at that time) an unknown number of people, political, simply couldn’t be resisted. The tragedy gave those who should have the sense to be silent and somber, a perfect opportunity to pontificate. Politicians, political pundits, and even a Sheriff pointed fingers at the right in general, and Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin specifically. “SHAME all you right wing, hate mongers!” 

As is often the case, many of those who pointed fingers first and bemoaned the loudest at the “irresponsible hate speech” of those on the right, had short memories. Democrat Paul Kanjorski, the former House of Representatives member from Pennsylvania was quick to point fingers and demand that the right stop the rhetoric that he suggested led to the murders. Yet a mere nine weeks ago, Kanjorski, who lost his re-election bid, said of Rick Scott, the Republican contender for Governor of Florida, “Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him.” A statement that barely caused a ripple.  

Of course when questioned about his own calls to assassinate a fellow politician, Kanjorski was quick to say that “only fruitcakes” would take his statement literally. Clearly. However, Sarah Palin’s, old campaign poster with bulls eyes on “vulnerable” states was apparently an overt and obvious call to would-be murders to shoot Giffords et al. When Obama himself had cried for Democrats to “bring guns” against Republicans, no one suggested that he meant literally. But then as Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” 

Bernie Sanders, Democrat from Vermont certainly didn’t want this crisis to go to waste as he grabbed hold of the tragedy with both hands and shook it till money fell out. In the wake of the shootings, he appealed to his constituency to send money to his 2012 re-election campaign lest the “right wing reactionaries” incite copycat killers all around the country to fire upon Democrats. In a bizarre letter Sanders suggested that it could all be a “Massacre in Montpelier” if people didn’t come up with the cash to keep him and other Democrats in power. 

As is always the case, the media also found tremendous opportunity in the “Tragedy in Tucson.” Various “news readers” took pot shots at competing shows, blaming their “skewed” coverage for an atmosphere that incites hate. I caught a bit of MSNBC as I waited for a train and was bemused to find the “news reader” complaining that Palin issued a response to the almost constant blame smeared at her door by the guests on that very station. A “whipping boy” that talks back?! How Dare She! 

The House (and Washington in general) found many opportunities in the Tucson Tragedy. Republican’s came out swinging after a “lame duck” session, demanding a return to Constitutionality, calling on the removal of Obama’s entire Czar Empire and vowing to dismantle ObamaCare. It certainly seemed as if nothing would derail the Republican Revolution train.  Now, days after the shooting, the media has dragged out the Chilean Miner’s method of “journalism,” reporting on the minute details of the lives of dozens of people hurt or killed in up to the second detail, neglecting other news. In the meantime, the Republican steam roller has lost its steam. Oh, by the way…the government of Lebanon collapsed today. 

Perhaps this is a good time for the media to ignore Washington. Politicians, who are so over worked and under paid as it is, have taken the opportunity provided by this tragedy, to take an extra week off from running the government to focus on gun carry licenses for themselves and day-in-day-out remembrances, memorials, and grief counseling. I am a supporter of Second Amendment rights. But a group of gun toting politicians just seems a bad B movie plot. 

Now before anyone suggests that I am insensitive, I am not. This was a horrid, senseless tragedy. But the senseless death or injury to people happens every day in America. People are murdered, raped and injured in the tens of thousands and we don’t shut down the government for them. Elevating the death of these people who happened to be killed by this particular nut, over the deaths of those who were killed by less politicized nuts is offensive. This is clearly a tragedy. But is it a “national” tragedy? In my opinion, it is not. 

Tragedies have always provided Presidents with opportunities to connect, reinforce, and rebuild their relationships with the American people. Ronald Reagan seized upon the opportunity of a tragedy and solidified his image as a great statesman. In the somber speech, upon the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, Reagan said of the astronauts who perished, they had “slipped the surly bounds of earth to touch the face of God.” 

Quoting Kahlil Gibran, JFK schooled a Nixon jaded America, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” This snippet of his inaugural address became one of the most recognized Presidential quotes in history. 

Opportunities found in tragedy can also be missed. Those rare moments in time when a person has the opportunity to do the selfless thing, say the magnanimous word, or turn the spotlight from themselves, but somehow lack the ability.  Obama, having missed out so frequently, by failure to show up (Gulf Oil Disaster) or failure to respond (Underwear Bomber, Ft Hood), took the opportunity offered by the Tucson Tragedy to make that “defining moment” speech. But Obama didn’t use his opportunity to appear more statesmen like or attempt to regain control of a slipping reputation. Obama used his moment to establish himself as….a Christian. Quoting from the Bible more in one speech than he has in his entire political career, Obama sought to quell the 65% and growing number of people who doubt his faith. In the end, Obama was incapable of delivering a speech that wasn’t all about his own political needs. 

He was certainly not alone in this missed opportunity. The heroes of the day, those who saved people around them as they fell to a mad man’s bullet, were sat in the back, behind rows of politicians with little or no connection to the wounded community. Eager to insure the world saw their attendance and the lighting was just right for the camera, they robbed those who had genuine rights to grieve, the places of respect to which their loss entitled them. 

Many students missed the opportunity to show themselves as civilized, respectful, mature members of a mourning community. Instead they disgraced themselves by cheering and whooping at Obama’s every word and glance. Their behavior turned a memorial event into a weird college pep rally. But at least they all got a tee shirt for attending. What moment of collective grief would be complete without the Obama memorial tee shirt?

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