Think about after 9/11. America bonded...for a bit. This dissolved into too many blaming Muslims for the Twin Towers or blaming them in general. It also brought one lasting change — the disregard for and legislative and administrative destruction of our freedoms. By polls, a majority of us said it was OK to give up our Constitutional rights because President George the Lesser said it was necessary.
Long-term threats, such as the Axis powers in WWII, do keep us together so long as the need remains. Responses to such tragic events as political assassinations don't focus us for long.
We too often wishy-washy progressive sorts tend to respond to such horrific occurrences in two ways:
- Calling for identifying and solving underlying catalysts and conditions
- Asking Americans to work together to prevent these
The first is tough. It requires considerable attention span and commitment. It likely will also exceed the comfortable zone of many and demand introspection. It may even ask for people to take personal responsibility and perhaps change what they say and do.
Where Have You Gone?
I view President Barack Obama as not all that progressive, although he does fit with the rest of us in often sounding and acting wishy-washy. Now, as in the Paul Simon song, "A nation turns its lonely eyes to you." As he speaks tonight in Tucson on the weekend murders and woundings, he has an awesome opportunity to transform us.
We should be plain that not all the brains behind those millions of lonely eyes will be receptive of such inspiration and transformation. We are not, for example, likely to hear widespread support in Congress for either turning down sensational and hateful oratory.
To worry the metaphor a bit, Obama is indeed like Joe DiMaggio in Mrs. Robinson. Tonight, he's effectively the slugger standing at home plate. In theory, he could hit that needed run, but he's on his own.
Alas, personal responsibility is a delusional trait of too many of us. Like we are prone to say we are people persons or multitaskers, we boast of accepting consequences for our mistakes and demand, demand as a result, that others do the same.
This has been astoundingly clear in the past few days, particularly but not exclusively, on the far right and the muddled outer circles such as Tea Party groupies. As with our Left Ahead caller yesterday, the chant is that lefties are lying about righties claiming their years of inflammatory calls for violence drove the acts of Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner. Even those in Congress and the Administration who say this horror should remind us that even if there is no direct link, we'd be better off as a nation if we forwent insurrection and shoot-'em talk are getting slammed.
I noticed one such clear example today on the Washington Post's op-ed page. There Charles Krauthammer set up and destroyed his strawmen. His repetition that Loughner is crazy and that's all there is to it avoids the underlying issues we progressives are wont to identify.
Likewise, Sara Palin has a long piece in video and text on her Facebook page. (Link goes to text, which in turn has a link to the 8-minute video.) It is similarly defensive. She decries any call to crank down the volume and vitriol with such remarks as, "Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions."
Yes to Debate
She too defines Loughner as simply crazed — "...this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal..." Her very defensive point is actually aimed at cutting off public debate, as in claiming any connection of the slightest of violent talk to violent action.
Instead and regardless of the proximate motivations for Loughner's rampage, we do need to debate this.
Many of the most extreme won't want to consider calls to reason and civility. Some are simply self-interested; think of TV and radio talkers who attract listeners and advertisers through quotable, aggressive insults and threats. Others are just too literal; when a Loughner kills people, it's just him and we needn't worry our pretty little heads about anything beyond the obvious. Still others are understandably defensive; they like talk of revolution, even violently, and can't bear to think they may contribute to actual blood in the parking lot.
The lonely eyes and uncomforted ears will turn to our President tonight. This should be a seminal speech and may be the most important one he has given. Even setting aside the minority who can't or won't let themselves consider his thoughts and intentions, a huge majority is ready for inspiration and direction.