”The left blamed the right, the right blamed the left, and everybody blamed the media. But none of that will put a nine year old back at the breakfast table where she belongs.” that was Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern at a House ceremony Wednesday honoring the Arizona shooting victims.
That powerful summation gets it exactly right, and came as legislators lined up to praise Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the other victims, living and dead. Many Democrats and Republicans took the opportunity to call for getting past the vitriol and for more civility in debate.
It was sometimes clear which side of the aisle those honors came from, depending on how the shootings were referenced. Many Republicans have taken defensive positions on even the suggestion that violent rhetoric has consequences, while some Democrats have used the shootings as an opportunity to criticize their Republican opponents.
A number of Republicans emphasized that it was an irrational, incomprehensible act of “evil” by an “evildoer” and”lunatic,” as a couple legislators put it. On the other side, a number of Democrats talked about a future time when it would be appropriate to look at causes and possible remedies to the violence. One Republican, for example, said it would be a mistake to try to rationalize what is irrational or understand what can’t be understood. A Democrat soon after said the shootings should be a cause for reflection on the level of political discourse, while another said it was time to pass more restrictive gun laws.
But there were also Democrats who talked only about the senseless tragedy, and Republicans who said it was time totone down the rhetoric.
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) himself a former radio talk show host, warned about ascribing blame and chilling speech. He provided what he characterized as a “gentle admonition”: “We cannot fear free and open debate,” he said. “Democracy depends on heavy doses of civility,” he said, but he warned against ascribing blame to either side for the actions of the Tucson gunman.
Greg Walden (R-Ore.), new chair of the House Communications Subcommittee, took his moment at the lecturn to say that despite the deep philosophical differences, sometimes vociferously, he also said that violence has no place in public discourse.”
Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.) said it was time to “get civility back into the world,” and to work together on issues.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) called it an “evil” shooting spree and said it was “no time for assigning blame to anyone but the gunman.” But he also said Giffords ability to work with both sides of the aisle could be a “discerning road map to get to the desired decorum” in political discourse.
Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) said that while the horrific events were a reminder of the fragility of life, they should also be a reminder of what Franklin Roosevelt and George W. Bush had both called for, which was the “warm courage of national unity.”
Carolyn Maloney (D-Mass.) talked about the rise of “hate speech.” She pointed out that words matter. “Those that use inflamatory rhetoric for cheap political gain wounds our country and weakens the ties that bind us.”
“We must turn down the volume on hate.” said Lloyd Doggett (D-Tex.), but added that should not be confused with strong and vigorous debate.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) cited both Martin Luther King and John Lennon in decrying “irresponsible words,” saying nonviolence was a powerful weapon. “Let us use nonviolence in our expressions,” she said, and, quoting Lennon: “Let it be.”