The fallout from the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others on Saturday has been both fascinating and frustrating to watch.
It’s been fascinating because the gun barrels had yet to grow cold when people starting pointing fingers and assigning blame. It’s frustrating because we seem to be more interested in blame than in stopping for a moment and simply mourning the loss of life.
Since Saturday, everyone has been trying to offer some explaination about what happened. The one issue that keeps coming up again and again is the tone of political rhetoric in our daily disc0urse. The more nakedly partisan among us dig up maps used by Sarah Palin and point to the former governor and the larger conservative movement as the problem. The less partisan bring up calls for more civility. More than one fellow pastor has called for our political speech to be more charitable.
All of the folks in question swear up and down that such speech is not what killed six people and injured 13 others, but in reality, that is exactly what they are saying. They are saying inflamed speech, such as the use of crosshairs on an ad by a certain former Alsakan governor, is what lead to the massacre in Tuscon.
But the reality is, we really don’t know why Jared Loughner decided to open fire at a Safeway. We have a lot of odd writings that don’t seem to make sense. On Saturday, James Fallows admitted that many an assasin has shot someone for motives that really had nothing to do with anything:
– Leo Ryan, the first (and, we hope, still the only) Representative to be killed in the line of duty, was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 for an investigation of the Jim Jones/Jonestown cult, not any “normal” political issue.
– Sirhan Sirhan horribly transformed American politics by killing Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, but Sirhan’s political causes had little or nothing to do with what RFK stood for to most Americans.
– So too with Arthur Bremer, who tried to kill George C. Wallace in 1972 and left him paralyzed.
– The only known reason for John Hinckley’s shooting of Ronald Reagan involves Jodie Foster.
– It’s not often remembered now, but Manson family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme tried to shoot Gerald Ford, again for reasons that would mean nothing to most Americans of that time.
– When Harry Truman was shot at (and a policeman was killed) on the sidewalk outside the White Blair House, the attackers were concerned not about Cold War policies or Truman’s strategy in Korea but about Puerto Rican independence.
– The assassinations of William McKinley and James Garfield were also “political” but not in a way that matched the main politics of that time. The list could go on.
And Ross Douthat’s Monday column shows that the assisnation of John F. Kennedy was not due to the anti-Democratic climate in Dallas at the time:
When John F. Kennedy visited Dallas in November of 1963, Texas was awash in right-wing anger — over perceived cold-war betrayals, over desegregation, over the perfidies of liberalism in general. Adlai Stevenson, then ambassador to the U.N., had been spit on during his visit to the city earlier that fall. The week of Kennedy’s arrival, leaflets circulated in Dallas bearing the president’s photograph and the words “Wanted For Treason.”
But Lee Harvey Oswald was not a right-winger, not a John Bircher, not a segregationist. Instead, he was a Marxist of sorts (albeit one disillusioned by his experiences in Soviet Russia), an activist on behalf of Castro’s Cuba, and a man whose previous plot had been aimed at a far-right ex-general named Edwin Walker. The anti-Kennedy excesses of Texas conservatives were real enough, but the president’s assassin acted on a far more obscure set of motivations.
I think part of the reason there has been all this talk about cooling our political speech is because we want to find some answer for this tragedy. We want to make sense of the horror. What better way to make sense of this all than to pin the blame on something or someone else?
But can we really blame it on inflammatory speech? Crosshairs aside, was anybody really calling for the assasination of Representative Giffords? And if the culprit is speech, then how in the world do you “cool down” down the rhetoric? Is this simply a moral problem that can be solved by faith communities or is it something that requires the state to take part?
People are trying hard to find a way to pin a villian, usually a villian that people already don’t like. It makes this horror easier to understand to our anxious hearts. But I think the awesome reality is that we don’t understand what is going on. We want to, but we don’t. There is no easy answer to this situation.
And that scares us. Because if there is no easy answer, then it means that life can be random, that sometimes things happen for no discernable reason. We want there to be an easy reason for endangering the life of a public servant and for killing a nine-year-old whose only crime was going to this event to learn more about government.
There is no real way to make sense of this tragedy and I wish others would stop trying to do so.
What I wish we would do is what Daniel Hernandez did. Hernandez is an intern at Giffords’ office and after the Congresswoman was shot on Saturday, he stayed by her side and applied bandages to her wounds. Many people think he might have saved her life.
Instead of pontificating and seeking easy answers, I think we need to simply stand by the side of the hurting. As blogger Michael Kruse says, we need to be able to grieve and comfort those who mourn.
The book of Job is a biblical account of a man who goes through immense suffering. He loses everything- including his children and is visited by his three friends. Later on, the three friends try to offer reasons for Job’s sufferings, which were never much helpful. At the beginning, though, they met with Job and just sat with him.
Sometimes, in times of tragedy, nothing needs to be said. We just need to sit, mourn and pray for those lost. We don’t have to make sense of everything.