McCULLOUGH: Tragedy, irony in Arizona

“What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do.”

“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’s 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.”

The above quote is from President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday night at the memorial for the victims of the Arizona massacre. I find it to be good advice, a pipe dream and irony all wrapped up together.

First of all, it would be nice if our politicians could get all touchy-feely for a while and discuss issues with a degree of civility. Heck, I’d settle for them agreeing that we’re all Americans on the same team.

But that’s not going to happen and we all know it. We know it because as soon as news broke that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and so many others had been the victims of a lunatic’s shooting spree, we all had the same thought: I wonder if it was politically motivated. And as soon as we heard Giffords’ party affiliation (Democratic), a great many wondered if it was someone who’d taken tea party rhetoric too far.

Now let’s be perfectly clear and honest about this: It wasn’t the tea party who put a gun to that woman’s head. It wasn’t Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or any of the other people the left has blamed.

And while we’re at it — and I really get tired of having to repeat this — it wasn’t the gun. It was the gunman.

The gunman made the decision to kill. He pulled the trigger. Evidence is mounting that the suspect, Jared Loughner, is delusional and quite possibly insane. But before we knew that, a lot of people wondered if a nut had worked its way loose in the tea party.

Now most of the tea party people are just folks who are fed up with high taxes and an out-of-control government. But like any movement, it has its fanatics who do things like stomping on the heads of young women. Combine that fact with some really irresponsible comments by public officials, and it was easy to make the jump from blaming a lone nut to blaming a representative of a movement. And even though that turned out not to be true, it was too late — it was already a political issue.

And just like that, you had politicians wanting to do what they do worst: make more laws. More gun-control laws mainly, but also laws limiting what you can say about certain elected officials. (I am constantly amazed at how fast some so-called champions of free speech will try to destroy it when its speech that’s disagreeable, frightening or that they can’t contradict.)

Which is a good segue to the irony.

I don’t think Obama is a very good president, but unlike so many people I also don’t find him to be evil incarnate. Some of the things he says, like the above quote, are things that need saying. It’s great advice, but it won’t be followed, mainly because the the memorial transformed from somber remembrance to political rally.

Whether the president intended that, I don’t know. But I doubt his handlers will let a great political opportunity go to waste, and I find that ironic, that in the middle of telling us not to make it a political issue it became even more of one, and the administration will find itself with a little boost in public opinion.

What we should be focusing on, of course, is Giffords’ miraculous recovery, but most won’t because there’s too much political capital to be made. That only adds to the tragedy.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.