Nobody cares where you sit, and other notes on contemporary politics

I haven’t had much to rant about on the political front in sometime, mainly because most of what I feel justified in commenting on has been on hold since the holiday recess began almost a month ago.

Just when congress was gearing up for a serious partisan smack down in the new year (something I would definitely have commented upon), maladjusted weirdo Jared Loughner shot up a Gabrielle Giffords speaking event for, apparently, no reason, killing six and injuring a dozen more. What followed was the oddest combination of genuine shock and grief and blame-slinging and political posturing in recent memory. Everyone made an initial statement, many of them quite honest and moving and heartfelt. Then everyone analyzed everyone else’s statement. Reactions were compared and contrasted.

Then the idea that the polarized political situation and negative, violent rhetoric inspired the shooting (just like rock music causes suicide, and Stairway to Heaven includes secret satanic messages) was covered exhaustively. Not to say that the tone in Washington is not a problem, but the sad truth is you can’t blame mean people for crazy ones–no matter how much you might want to. Or at least, you can blame them only in so much as their meanness contributes to the general malaise, the poisonous atmosphere that, combined with paranoia and delusion and a thousand other influences, creates both the madness and the motivation for such an act. Still, everyone vowed to play nice in the future. And then promptly turned and criticized someone else for not making the same promise, or for doing it too slowly, or whatever. I don’t even want to talk about what Sarah Palin odd little mini controversy, which was beyond bizarre from beginning to end.

The idea that an effort at civility is really a mandate for curtailing free speech was briefly floated. A hilarious concept considering that in the 1700s when the whole free speech thing took hold, the social niceties were so much more extreme that two people exchanged bows before trying to kill one another. The founding fathers it seems, were free to say and do just about anything without breaking the bounds of decorum. And, with our lax social standards, I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say so are we. It’s entirely possible to refute everything your opponent stands for without being aggressive and violent, sometimes without even being impolite.

In the midst of the back biting and general scramble to either avoid or acknowledge culpability as circumstances seemed to warrant, a few individuals stood up and stood out in an admirable way. The president broke out his not inconsiderable rhetorical skills at the memorial service Wednesday. The old John McCain, the McCain we loved for his compassion and his faithfulness and his ability to step outside his own perspective (even if he is a homophobic old coot), reemerged unexpectedly with Sunday’s Washington Post op-ed. Ms. Giffords staff opened the offices as usual on the Monday following the shooting.

So it’s been 10 days, and congress has decided it’s now appropriate to get back down to business–possibly a kinder, gentler business. So, the “job-killing health care bill” is now the “job-destroying health care bill,” (much less violent that way, right?) and we’re all going to sit side by side at the State of the Union (because this is 8th grade and it matters who we sit by). And now it’s time to see how it all goes forward.

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