Saturday, January 8, 2011

This was not a political event, and that matters.

For all the news today, this seems like a minor point, but it's sticking in my craw.  On both CNN and MSNBC, today's shooting has been described as occurring at a "political event."

This is incorrect.  This was not a political event.

"Congress on Your Corner" is a program wherein Members and staffers offer constituent services at highly trafficked locations, instead of just in their district offices.  It's not political: there is no fundraising or vote-seeking.  It's direct contact between the federal government and the public, not between a campaign and an electorate.  It's ground-level democratic government, not retail politics.  So let's get that straight.

The distinction is important because it's about who was targeted today.  We can't say this was a Democratic congresswoman with Democratic staffers attacked at a Democratic event, because that isn't exactly what happened.

Today, America was attacked.  All of America.

I think Bernie Sanders's statement hits the right note:

This is a sad day for all Americans. This senseless & cowardly shooting occurred as the Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were engaged in the kind of event that makes our democracy work and represents America at its best. Anti-government sentiment carried to a violent and deadly extreme is a sad reflection of America at its worst. America is better than this.

Speaker Boehner was on track as well:

An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.  Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society.

Howard Fineman suggested that this will lead to a greater distancing between the people and their representatives.  I hope he's wrong. 

I hope that every member of Congress will take this next week (since all House business has effectively been postponed) and return to their districts, and throw open their office doors.  I hope they shutter their campaign offices for the week, cancel their fundraisers, and host their own constituent services programs.  I hope they spend the week making sure that their constituents are receiving their Social Security and military pension checks, and that visa applications are being processed in a timely manner, and that federal student loans are being disbursed, and that improper foreclosures are being halted.

And, in time, I hope they return to Washington, remembering not just the people they've helped, but the ones they haven't yet been able or willing to.  And I hope they remember the tragedy that struck today, and work to prevent it from ever happening again.

If we turn this tragedy into an attack against only one political party, then it loses its force, and we'd be doing a disservice to the rest of the nation that was attacked.  Today was a blow struck against our government, which is--and ever has been--ourselves.  How we respond to that blow will tell us about our character as a nation.

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