There will be no business-as-usual on Capitol Hill this week. Republicans and Democrats have called something of a truce in their ongoing war of obstinacy and obstruction because, for once, they recognize that they are in the same boat – saddened, outraged and fearful that one of their colleagues has been targeted and shot.
Beefing up security for the members and their staffs will be all that gets done on the Hill this week. And it will get done, proving that the two sides are capable of finding solutions and moving quickly if they act in the common interest.
Take pictures if you’re around because it will be as rare as a solar eclipse. As Rep. Emanuel Cleaver put it on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, “Congress meets a lot, but it rarely comes together.”
In the first days after 9/11 – as shocking and awful a day that the country has experienced in these latter years – they were Kumbaya-ing all over the place. Soon enough, the peace faded more and more each day until, blip, it was gone. Of course, George W. Bush helped erase it with his trumped-up push to invade Iraq.
What will end the tentative truce this time may be, irony of ironies, the demand for a permanent peace in the form of more civilized discourse. Stop with the name-calling, the allegations of anti-Americanism, the rude and crude interjections – “You lie,” from the House chamber – and the violent innuendos – references to “taking out,” “taking down,” “gun sights,” “crosshairs” and the like.
Stunned by the horrendous terror in Tucson – and, no doubt, fretful that if a moderate, back-bencher like Rep. Gabrielle Giffords can be shot in the head, then what does that bode for the high-profilers – the Sunday talk show chatterers were frothing with sweet nothings, calling on their colleagues to stop the madness and defend their differences like civilized, responsible and reasonable adults.
But, there was also an “I-will-if-you-will” strain running beneath the conciliatory talk, along with a hint of “You-started-it.” Look closely and you can see the outlines of an argument taking shape over the line between passionate defense and advocacy and fighting dirty.
In describing the recent tone of American political discourse, Cleaver, a three-term Democrat from Missouri and the new chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, told the NBC audience “the atmospheric condition is toxic.”
Some exceedingly generous observers have noted that since the shooter’s motives are still unknown, comments by well known politicians, activists and radio and TV commentators cannot be charged with having influenced or encouraged Jared Loughner’s treachery.
Sorry, but I’m not as sanguine as those observers.
Although you can’t say that Sarah Palin’s 2010 election map with crosshairs marking the congressional seats she wanted to “aim for” made Loughner act, it did add to the pollution, making things only worse for a mind already sickened by paranoia and rage. This much, I know: It couldn’t have helped.
Palin knows it, too. Why else did she remove the map from her website shortly after the news broke about the Tucson tragedy?
It is always the case that we only learn the hard way. For the longest, calm, rational voices have urged the country to tone it down, back off and recover some modicum of old-fashioned manners, dignity and respect.
To make us even give pause and consideration to those appeals, it took a bullet through the brain of a young, service-minded woman on a Saturday morning. A bullet in the chest of a sweet little girl who wanted to know more about how grown-ups do leadership. Bullets that ended the lives of a respected federal judge, a bright young congressional aide who was giving up his Saturday morning to assist his boss and three elderly people who drove up to the store to chat with their hometown congresswoman.
The question is not only whether the folks on Capitol Hill will change their ways, but will we, as we put out our poisonous Tweets and chat room threats and insults, unaccountably, thanks to the dishonesty of aliases and anonymity.
There’s blame galore to share.