Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tucson Violence and America

Most of the press seems to be swooning over President Obama's 'sermon' last night in Tucson, as if it were some kind of magnificant, rhetorical 'tour de force'.  Why don't I see it that way?  It seemed to me to be fairly pedestrian and, honestly, even trite at times, as if the President were a community pastor giving a funeral meditation, instead of the President of the US.  It was nice enough, but nothing outstanding, it seems to me.  What else was he going to say?  President Bush would probably have done just as well in the same situation, or any other occupant of that office.

E. J. Dionne wrote something like that too, (though not as negative):
President Obama spoke Wednesday night as the pastor in chief, not as a politician. His address in Tucson was highly personal, rooted in the biographies of the victims and in scripture, more about the country as a family than about government. It was neither therapeutic nor political and dealt only in passing with the roiling controversies that have divided left from right.
Anyway, speaking anything but positively about Obama's performance feels like criticizing the pastor's sermon: you just shouldn't do it.  I guess I'm a bad congregant in that regard.

Now Dana Milbank writes about the new mood in Congress, as members from both sides offer tributes to Rep. Giffords and promise to do better.  We clearly needed a break from our national contention.   But how long will that last, I wonder?  Not long, I think.  The ideological differences, along with problems foreign and domestic facing the nation, are so great that the harmony and kumbaya feeling permeating the Hill right now will fade like the snow now fast melting away in my driveway in the always strong North Carolina sun.  The liberals and conservatives, the Republicans and Democrats will soon be back at each others throats, trying to dominate and win the day for their vision and their party.  And there will be no significant change in gun laws, the mental health system, or anything else that had a role in this Tucson tragedy.  Consider me the cynical realist, I guess.

As John McWhorter wrote today in The New Republic,
Obama’s speech, then, was lovely and appropriate for the occasion. But in the end, a call amidst controversy for people to simply come together – as if doing so were as A-B-C as it would have been to poor nine-year-old Christina Green who lost her life in the shooting – is disingenuous. It is based on the desperate hope, undergirding religion and so much else, that the answers to the grand questions of life will turn out to be easy.
You know what this reminds me of?  A high school that's just had a couple of popular teenagers killed in a random act of violence.  Everybody is shocked and disgusted, and the normal teenage goings-on in any high school cease for a day, or a week, or two.  There's an assembly where the principal speaks, and lots of people cry.  Emotional catharsis occurs, and everyone feels better.  But you know what?  Nothing fundamentally changes.  And in a fairly short time, everything will return to the status quo ante, except for a memorial plaque or something in the front hall.

Or to change the metaphor, it reminds me of a drunk, who when called on the carpet for his irresponsible behavior gets all weepy and repentant and promises to change.  But within a few days, he's right back at his favorite bar.  What we need are drunks who will go daily for the rest of their life to AA and REALLY change.  "My name is John and I'm an alcoholic."  Otherwise, it's just feel-good, gooey sentimentality without any real meaningful change for the better. 

Rep. Giffords has experienced the horror of American violence at its most random and diabolical.   I'm hoping that she will survive and recover and even return to Congress.  Others who died that day won't be so lucky, and they join the long list of victims (martyrs?) of the American way of life, such as it is.  Violence, foreign and domestic, was, is, and shall be practically our middle name. 

You can expect to see a lot of hand-wringing and sermonizing on both the left and right of our politcal spectrum about American violence, the abundance of guns, the need for civility.  It's certainly everywhere today in columns and editorials.  So it has been time and time again, whenever important people are struck down (not so much when the people killed are poor or quite ordinary).  But few things...ever...really...change.   (I might make an exception here for conditions in New York City, happily.)

Who knows, maybe it will this time.  God bless the United States of America, its President, and its Congress.  God knows, we need it very badly.

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