Wednesday, January 12, 2011

For Christina

From the President's speech tonight in Tucson:
But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.
OK, so first of all let me offer an apology if I said anything in the last couple of posts that sounds like pointing fingers or assigning blame.   I didn't really intend to be part of that, but I will admit to using the Tucson shootings as a springboard, as others have done, for talking about reducing the violence of our political rhetoric. President Obama talked about civility in our political discourse also, but he was much more careful to make clear that he was not pointing fingers or assigning blame.  I'll have to try harder to live up to that ideal.  Even though I started this blog to talk about hope and change, post-partisanship, transforming our political culture, and all of that, I will admit to a tendency to slip into partisan argument at times. This is not the right time for that, as the President reminded us in his unifying and uplifting speech, which mainly consisted of a celebration of the lives of the victims and the heroes of Saturday's shootings.


The thing that really surprised me about the President's speech, however, and what was most moving about it, was his shift in focus away from the tragedy's intended victim, Congresswoman Giffords (even though his report that she had opened her eyes was one of the speech's most dramatic moments), to its youngest, accidental victim, Christina Taylor Green.  Here is part of what the President said about Christina Green:
Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.
It is good to be reminded that we need to try harder to live up to our children's expectations, which we shatter too often, as Christina's were utterly shattered.  It's good to remember that the whole point of politics, and life, is to create a better world for our children.  All of the president's talk about Christina Green also took me back to my own childhood.  I was Christina's age when my childhood hero, John F. Kennedy was murdered. The following year, a neighbor who knew I was a little political geek, had an extra ticket to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, and was kind enough to take me along.  My strongest memory of that event was following Bobby Kennedy into an exhibit of JFK's presidential memorabilia that had been set up near the Convention Hall.  We got pretty close to him, and I thought I saw a tear come to Bobby's eye as he looked at his brother's empty rocking chair.  Four years later, Bobby Kennedy himself was murdered, in Los Angeles, where I currently live.  I was part of an effort that tried, but failed to preserve the Ambassador Hotel where the assassination took place.

These political killings shake us to our foundations, and never seem to fade from our memories.  I don't think we learn from these events.  I don't think they make us better people.  But perhaps the president's words tonight can help do that.

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