Jan. 9: Time for ‘adult conversations’ during elections

I was sitting snug on my couch in Athens Saturday afternoon enjoying a John Wayne movie marathon when my roommate walked in, grabbed the remote and changed the channel. On the other side of the country Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. Congresswoman from Arizona, was being life-flighted to a Tucson-area hospital after being shot in the head outside a supermarket.

Rep. Giffords was speaking with her constituents at an event called “Congress on Your Corner” when a gunman approached her an opened fire. Chaos ensued. The aftermath left six dead – including federal judge John M. Roll and a 9-year-old girl – as many as 20 wounded, and Giffords fighting for her life.

The suspected gunman, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, is in custody.

I sat transfixed to the television, watching as the anchor fumbled through conflicting reports, breaking news when there was no new news to break.

Politicians and pundits alike expressed their shock that a public servant could fall victim to such senseless act of violence. They were equally mortified that it occurred as Giffords was in the midst of fulfilling her most basic but fundamental role of a legislator – listening and interacting with her constituents.

Shock was my initial reaction, I thought. Then I became cold and my stomach began to churn. I wasn’t shocked. This is the current state of American political culture.

Politics is and will always be polarizing. Different people have different views, and in a country of over 300 million, there are bound to be disagreements.

The beauty of representative democracy is that we vote for and try to elect officials that share our views. They take our views and ideas with them and engage in debate, from the town halls to the halls of Congress.

‘Adult conversation’ was the buzzword around the Capitol in the days preceding Saturday’s assassination attempt. Legislators needed to put an end to ‘partisan politics’ and ‘reach across the aisle’ after November’s midterm election.

The months leading up to the election told a very different story. Politicians sought to energize their bases by demonizing their opponents. Adversaries were ‘unpatriotic and ‘fascist’.

Florida Republican congressman Daniel Webster wanted Taliban-esque decrees against women. Nevada senator Harry Reid voted to use tax dollars to pay for Viagra for convicted sex-offenders. Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady even voted to kill your dog.

And Giffords, a Democrat, appeared on former Alaska governor Sarah Palin’s election ‘target list’, with Tucson in the crosshairs.

Palin didn’t want her supporters to go out with elk hunting rifles and shoot up all the congressmen and women who had voted for health care reform. She wanted to see the Republicans take back the House, and they did. And now they want to have ‘adult conversations.’

How about adult conversations during political campaigns? How about adult conversations on cable news shows?

Doctors at University Medical Center say that Gabrielle Giffords is expected to survive and make a recovery. I hope we can say the same about the political environment that put her there.

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