Why the Yanks Should Give Gabrielle a Go

STONE the crows! You think our politics is putrid! Most of the muck being shovelled in Australia comes from the Brisbane River but in the US the shooting of Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords has sent the political class into a blather of blaming. The left said the Tea Party and its mates in the media were responsible for encouraging idiots like aspiring assassin Jared Loughner. Consider this from Drew Weston, Democrat neurobiological operator and author of a book arguing the left needs to match the conservative appeal to emotion rather than reason:[i]

… the quasi-delusional rantings of media personalities such as Glenn Beck and the cognitively and psychiatrically impaired candidates and elected officials we have come to accept as part of the American political landscape in the 21st century, like the hate-mongering of Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, are part of the political and psychological air a psychotic shooter like Jared Loughner breathes.[ii]

The conservatives responded by saying this sort of criticism is typical of the left. Except for Sarah Palin who demonstrated how unelectable she is by suggesting people whom said she encouraged extremists were committing a “blood libel”.[iii] There are many reasons why this was a stupid solipsism, but one definitely worth mentioning is Ms Giffords is a Jew.

With people dead and a congresswoman who had a bullet in her brain, attributing blame to anybody but the shooter was inane nonsense.

As were local efforts to use the attempted assassination to score points. The Age ran a straight-ish story on the attempted assassination under the headline, “a gunman on a collision course in mad America”.[iv]

Rod Tiffen (bylined as an emeritus professor no less) did not say Tea Party rhetoric motivated Loughner. But he spent much of a piece pointing out how mean-minded its members are and why it is a worry that four of the five contenders for the 2012 Republican nomination are on the Fox News payroll, which uses the bad, including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, to appeal to the mad, presumably as in “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore”, as well as the simply deranged.[v]

Andrew Bolt weighed in from the other side of the partisan divide: “Palin’s accusers lie – and so that they commit the very hate speech they piously claim to deplore.”[vi]

It was all odious, not least because it ignored Loughner’s victims and turned the debate over the shooting into the first, ahem, shots in the 2012 election. And it assumed the US is divided between Tea Party patriots and Obama-inspired socialists, or between racist rednecks and reasonable people, depending what side of the argument commentators are on.

None of this has anything to do with the vast majority of ordinary Americans, who may express their opinions with more force than us – they have been calling their political opponents names since the 1800 election, the first time power passed from one party to another by the will of a relatively mass electorate.

But the crows suspect most US citizens variously ignore or are embarrassed by the culture wars fought out online and on cable, which appeal to individuals who are aggrieved with the world or do not have enough to do with their time.

A CBS poll on the shooting found a majority of Americans didn’t think the tone of political debate led Loughner to act but that politics is more acrimonious than a decade back.[vii]

And it is a fair bet most of them do not like it much. Fox News boss Roger Ailes is reported to have told his commentators to tone it down in the aftermath of the shootings.[viii] Sensibly so, because the silent majority (and there’s an expression we are going to hear a lot more of, at least among people who have never heard of Spiro Agnew), pay more attention to the Gabrielle Giffords than the Sarah Palins.

For all Palin’s self-promoting populism, Giffords is as much the all-American achiever; with the sort of CV you only expect to see on West Wing. A self made politician, married to an astronaut, she is as ambitious as she is obviously intelligent. Nor is she afraid of a fight, crossing the aisle in state politics, where she started with the GOP. A gun-owning blue dog Democrat she now appeals to enough electors in Republican Arizona to be on the way to having a lock on her electorate. She carried the state’s 8th congressional electorate for the fourth time in November, despite it’s being in Governor Palin’s now infamous cross-hairs.[ix]

In her opinions and their expression she represents suburban America much more than the political artist formally known as Mama Grizzly (any idea why Governor Palin isn’t referring to herself as a carnivore as much?)

Giffords’ speech to the 2009 graduating class at her undergraduate university, Scripps Women’s College, demonstrates why. There was no wrapping herself in the flag. The founding fathers did not get a mention, beyond her quoting a line from the Declaration of Independence that the Tea Party, with its emphasis on lower public spending, discipline and self-denial – apart from health and welfare spending for its ageing members – would probably prefer we forget:

Remember what the authors of the Declaration of Independence said about the inalienable rights of each person, which are, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Think of that! Those words are one of the deepest expressions of who we are as Americans. This is the mission statement of the United States. I hope you will choose to make it your own mission statement as well. Pursue your passion and everything else will fall into place. [x]

This is exactly the message 20-something women want to hear but Gifford added that rights are tempered by responsibilities:

There will be many, many times in the course of your professional and personal lives where you will be encouraged – in shockingly plain ways – to take the easy way, to go along with the group in contradiction of your own principles. You will one day be standing in the shoes of Faust, most likely somewhere on one of the jobs you take. But the safety of the world, in some sense, depends on your saying ‘no’ to inhumane ideas.

It was not a brilliant speech but it was principled and apolitical and it set out the core of the American dream, an individualism that accepts everybody else’s right to have a go, according to their own lights.

And Giffords did not denounce anybody at all. It is the sort of speech the commentators as combat crowd should read.

But the crows bet they won’t.


[i] Drew Westen, The Political Brain (Public Affairs, 2007)

[ii] Westen, “Gun violence and the lessons of Tucson” Huffington Post January 10 @www.huffingtonpost.com January 13, recovered on January 13

[iii] Michael D Shear, “Palin calls criticism ‘Blood Libel’ “ @ http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes/2011/01/12 recovered on January 13

[iv] The Age, January 10

[v] Rod Tiffen, “So much resentment in the land of alienated patriots” Sydney Morning Herald, January 12

[vi] Andrew Bolt, “Deranged left quick to point the gun at Palin,” Daily Telegraph, January 11

[vii] CBS Newspoll, January 11 2011, @ www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/11/politics/main7237404.shtml?tag=contentMain;contentBody recovered on January 15

[viii] David Gibson, “Fox News head tells hosts ‘shut up, tone it down’ after Giffords shooting”

[ix] “Shot congresswoman popular in district,” Sky News, January 9 @ www.skynews.com.au/politics/ recovered on January 15, Catherine Philp, “Palin silent among the blame game” The Australian, January 12

[x] Gabrielle Giffords, “Find the calling of your heart” @ www.scrippscollege.edu.au/about/commencements/gabrielle-giffords.php