« On Present-Mindedness in the Writing of History | Main | Everything Is Permitted »

Obama in Tucson

By Scott Spencer

After eight years of life under a president whose power was exercised partly through the denuding and crippling of language, to the point where once familiar words lost their meaning (Clear Skies meant more pollution, Enhanced Interrogation Techniques meant throwing the Geneva Conventions out the window, etc.), the excitement is still high over having a leader who not only respects language and the intelligence of those to whom he is speaking, but who is genuinely eloquent and can deliver phrases that make our spirits soar. Is there any real doubt that Barack Obama, still relatively new to the national stage, has already delivered several orations that will be read and remembered for as long as American history is taught, and at least one (the Race Speech delivered in Philadelphia on the heels of the Reverend Wright revelations) that may very well live on as one of the key addresses in our republic’s life? As a writer, and as a citizen whose primary participation in his times has been through the construction and dissemination of sentences, I fervently believe in the power of the word. So in the shock and aftershock of the Safeway slaughter in Tucson, I waited with unusual eagerness for Obama to weigh in on the tragedy.

Yet even as his words – and the human, apolitical pain written over his rapidly aging face – moved me, I could not escape my own feelings of disappointment and frustration: was the .45 caliber elephant in the room really going to go unmentioned? The counter-intuitive fact of the matter is that despite Columbine, Virginia Tech, and the ever-growing list of those dead or injured by armed and dangerous Americans, these past few years have seen not a kind of new sobriety in the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists, no softening of their message, no casting about for some new middle ground. To the contrary, the gunsters have never been bolder or more stubborn, and though the President may have been right to decide that a funeral was not the right spot from which to mount a counter-attack on the NRA and its stooges, now a couple of weeks have gone by and we have heard nothing from Barack about the connection between widespread gun ownership and explosions of homicidal rage. We haven’t heard anything further about assault rifles, magnum clips, hollow point bullets, or how absurdly easy it is for anyone with a few bucks in his pocket to purchase a firearm – and not just something for plunking a few squirrels or bringing down a December doe, but a weapon that, if a soldier had been in possession of it during the First World War, he could have single-handedly conquered France.

Like a family held hostage by its angriest member, the US political process has for decades been cowering at the supposed might of the NRA –an organization far smaller than the AFL-CIO, representing a constituency that is but a small fraction of the American public. That most people don’t have a gun in their home, and most police departments object to some of the NRA’s key positions has made little difference to the legions of politicians and “opinion makers” who hesitate to call this lobby out on their complicity for the deaths of hundreds of Americans. Can you say National Rifle Association, you have blood on your hands and still have a career in politics?

Well it wasn’t said in Tucson, and now that the aftermath of Tucson, rather than leading us toward a serious referendum on the limits of “gun rights” the President has instead begun a conversation about civility, of all things. (We’ve also heard quite a bit about mental health – the Right, in particular, traditionally contemptuous for the so-called Insanity Defense, seems quite focused on portraying the shooter as hopelessly mentally ill, lest anyone dare to connect him to anything or anyone beyond the voices in his own head.)

Did the lack of civility in American politics really kill and wound those people in Tucson, or was the job done by a Glock with a 33 shot clip, a clip that allows you to put 33 holes into human beings without pausing to reload? Did rude talk and crazy exaggeration shed that blood or can those who have insisted that Wal-Mart is as good a place as any to buy weapons of mass destruction bear some of the guilt in this matter?

The President may have believed that a funeral is no place to talk about revising our laws and figuring out a way to respect the Constitution while working to prevent the next outburst of gun fire in the next public place. And maybe he chose civility as the center of his message because he wanted to cool us down, to stop arguing, and mourn. But the question remains: Is the problem of a contentious political culture really the most pressing issue facing us today? Is the US Congress really more rowdy than the British Parliament? What about the smackdown in the Korean parliament? What about the tone of Italian politics? US Lawmaking is dull. Official Washington is boring. People with insomnia watch Congressional hearings on C-Span, hoping that the sound of one nerd (probably a lawyer by education and temperament) droning on to a virtually empty chamber will do what Ambien has failed to. American politics is not filled with crazy talk. If you want crazy talk you are not going to find it on C-Span.

But there is a place where civility seems to be a losing proposition –and that is in that hot little corner where politics crosses paths with show business. Talk radio and cable TV. Rush Limbaugh and (the currently silenced) Keith Olberman host shows where moderation and mutual respect are not the order of the day. Hyperbole, accusation, guilt by association, gross satire are what mark….what shall we call it? Politainment? Entertolitics? And who listens to that crap? Other newscasters and politicians looking for a little free air time. Jon Stewart does…

In the end, this avalanche of talk bout civility is really more Insider Baseball, a message by and to people in the electronic world who are shouting and saying silly things to get attention. Outside of that relatively narrow corridor there is a world far more disquieting than even the most obnoxious radio host, and in that world they are terrified of the INS, they are suffering from unemployment and underemployment, they are buried in credit card debt. In that world beyond the arc of the President’s beautiful rhetoric they are rushing out to the mall (the day after the Tucson shooting) to purchase guns and ammunition. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about our eloquent President reminding us all to speak constructively, but when it’s done while ignoring the most obvious and pressing political lesson of the Safeway shootings, all that talk about civility can be enough to make you scream.

From February, 2011

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Obama in Tucson:

» Angel Whitley from Angel Whitley
Very neat post.Thanks Again. Want more. [Read More]

Tracked on December 11, 2011 02:47 PM

» Harper Hidalgo from Harper Hidalgo
Really appreciate you sharing this article.Thanks Again. Keep writing. [Read More]

Tracked on December 15, 2011 02:49 PM

» biketime couponcode from kortingscoupon biketime
kortingscode voor biketime voor sportieve fietsen [Read More]

Tracked on December 30, 2011 07:32 AM

» Payton Lopes from Payton Lopes
Thank you ever so for you article.Much thanks again. Really Cool. [Read More]

Tracked on January 14, 2012 09:03 PM

» achat viagra france from achat viagra france
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 23, 2012 01:49 PM

» A Deadly Mistake Uncovered on concealed carry handbags And How to Avoid It from A Deadly Mistake Uncovered on concealed carry handbags And How to Avoid It
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on September 14, 2012 07:01 PM

» xxxx from xxxx
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on January 3, 2013 11:04 PM

» prada bags from prada bags
prada bags online First of the Month prada bags [Read More]

Tracked on July 19, 2013 08:04 AM

» gently used authentic louis vuitton bags from gently used authentic louis vuitton bags
purchasing with each best balenciaga replica bags [Read More]

Tracked on July 24, 2013 04:35 PM

» how to buy michael kors discount handbags from how to buy michael kors discount handbags
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 4, 2014 05:06 AM

» how to buy michael kors discount handbags from how to buy michael kors discount handbags
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 4, 2014 05:07 AM

» dormir vite et bien from dormir vite et bien
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 10, 2014 07:46 PM

» hair-again-review.blogspot.com from hair-again-review.blogspot.com
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on February 19, 2014 10:14 PM

» Cheap Nike Air Max from Cheap Nike Air Max
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on May 20, 2014 09:19 PM

» POSTMAN(ポストマン) RED WING 9196|101 from POSTMAN(ポストマン) RED WING 9196|101
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on June 25, 2014 12:27 AM

» Michael Kors Women Logo Large Vanilla Satchels Leather Trim from Michael Kors Women Logo Large Vanilla Satchels Leather Trim
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 2, 2015 10:37 AM

» Michael Kors Women Logo Large Vanilla Satchels Leather Trim from Michael Kors Women Logo Large Vanilla Satchels Leather Trim
First of the Month [Read More]

Tracked on April 2, 2015 10:39 AM