Tucson Tragedy Was Work’s Backdrop This Weekend

Blogging here headed my “to-do” list for this weekend’s activities, but I fully anticipated writing a mundane “working on weekends is a pain in the ass” screed and nothing more.  Events proved otherwise.

On the first floor of the Discovery Exchange is a flat-screen TV.  It is always tuned to CNN with the volume muted.  I work on the second floor, but there is a railing overlooking the wall with the flat-screen.  Each time I passed it, while helping customers or walking to the staircase to the first floor, I’d give CNN a cursory glance.

Mid-afternoon, I saw the headline ARIZONA CONGRESSWOMAN SHOT, and soon the face of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) appeared.  Since there were no closed captions, I had almost no clue as to what had happened.  From bits and pieces flashed onto the screen, I learned that she was one of 19 people shot today in a Tucson shopping center.

Once I saw this headline, I frequently drifted toward the railing so I could watch the screen.  CNN immediately cancelled all its other programming so it could focus exclusively on the shooting.  At another glance, the news was that Rep. Giffords was dead.  With no captions, and single-sentence bits of information flashing under the screen, it was hard to glean what was happening.  A Tucson station, KGUN-TV, kept flashing pictures of emergency personnel rolling stretchers toward ambulances, milling crowds, and police barricades, scenes which have become tragically recognizable these past few years.

CNN admitted that they were receiving conflicting reports about whether or not Giffords had died.  Instantly, I thought about the Spring 1981 afternoon Ronald Reagan was shot, and the networks kept receiving differing accounts about whether press secretary Jim Brady, shot in the head, had succumbed.  ABC News’ anchor, the late Frank Reynolds, finally hit the roof.  He turned off camera and shouted, “Let’s get it nailed down, somebody!  Let’s find out!  Let’s get it straight so we can report this thing accurately!”  I am sure Wolf Blitzer was thinking the same thing.

My only surprise is that it took this long for this to happen.  I am also surprised that it didn’t happen to a higher level government official.  (Giffords has survived surgery, and is still in very critical condition, but the surgeon sounded optimistic.  Or at least as optimistic as possible about someone who has suffered a bullet to the brain.)  The only incumbent U.S. Representative assassinated was Leo Ryan (D-Calif.), who was murdered in Guyana by people from Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple in 1978.

I’ve been clicking back and forth between the blog and various news sites, and the information about the killer, and Rep. Giffords’ condition, has been coming in fits and starts.  The chair of the Brain Injury Association of America has said that she is in for a prolonged recovery, and there will inevitably be some permanent damage.  The killer had posted several free-association (that’s the kindest word I can use) videos on YouTube about how “I can’t trust the government”, and ridiculing the voters in his district, among other things.

American assassins seldom seem to have a truly political agenda.  Most of them are acting on personal demons.  (John Hinckley actually voted for Reagan, but thought that he could “win the love” of Jodie Foster by killing Reagan.  Arthur Bremer just wanted to be “somebody,” so he shot and crippled George Wallace after stalking Richard Nixon in the U.S. and Canada, intending to assassinate him.)

Keith Olbermann has called for an end to gun-related analogies in political rhetoric from both Left and Right, and I think the man has a point.  In this commentary, he has cited many of the politicians and rhetoricians of the Left and the Right who have done this, and has apologized for the times when he has crossed the line.  I think there is a lot more going in the mind of the person who decided to shoot Giffords and all the others yesterday, and ultimately he must own what he did, so whether human sewage like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh heavily influenced his thinking and his action is a question that will remain unanswered for months.

I have little hope that the bigots who see anti-U.S. terror plots behind every Muslim will speak out against this act of domestic terrorism.  Many still believe that we are above all this.  I remember the day of the Oklahoma City bombing, an event that affected me much more strongly than 9/11 did, because I was a Federal employee at the time.  Until Timothy McVeigh was charged, speculation ran rampant that it was the work of Middle Eastern terrorists, the same cell that had bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.  I was one of the few people who suspected that the perpetrator was American.  I lived in Cincinnati at the time, and was going to Columbus for the day to interview for a job with the Department of Agriculture.  As I was getting dressed and packing my over-the-shoulder bag for the trip, the disk jockey on the radio was talking about “on this day in history,” and he mentioned Lexington and Concord, and then mentioned the gory end to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco.  When I heard about Oklahoma City over lunch with my friend Ivan and his stepson, mentally I made the connection right away.

The 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade is later this month, and the pro-life and -choice letters are, I’m sure, clogging the Letters to the Editors pages and Websites of many newspapers in the country.  (I stepped away from the debate when Susie was an infant.  It may sound callous, but since the day of my vasectomy, it has ceased to be an issue that affects me personally.)  I have a Seamless Garment attitude about the whole abortion issue, but only Libertarian friends of mine understand my anti-abortion/pro-choice stance.  (A union official handled the issue best.  He was speaking at a rally, and someone asked him, “What do you think about Roe v. Wade?”  Without skipping a beat, he said, “If the water is above my waist, I’d rather row than wade.”)

The “pro-lifers” de-legitimized the whole argument about the right to life with the slew of abortion clinic arsons, bombings, and murders that began in the late 1970s.  That is when I began making the distinction between being “pro-birth” and being “pro-life.”  Many of the victims had nothing to do with abortions themselves; they were janitors or security guards who worked in the building.  Anti-abortion violence was why I never seriously tried to get a job with the University of Cincinnati during the six years I lived in the Blue Chip City.  At that time, U.C.’s civil service and human resources offices were in a multi-storied block of ugly near the Cincinnati Zoo at 3333 Vine Street, known around U.C. as “Thirty-three Thirty-three.”  Unfortunately, there was a women’s clinic in the same building, and they did provide abortions.  I’d pass the building on my way to work, and see the giant photos of aborted fetuses, BABY KILLERS → (pointing to the building), and the angriest and most rabid faces I have ever seen.  I genuinely feared I would be in 3333 Vine St. taking a civil service examination, or interviewing for a job, when the clinic would be bombed.

Many anti-abortion people I knew, however, were as appalled by clinic bombings and killings as I was.  One was a Christian pacifist who gained my eternal respect when he would silently stand across the street from armed forces recruiting centers with a sign that said, “REAL CHRISTIANS DON’T ENLIST,” and he and I became friendly.  But at pro-choice rallies, we were on opposite sides of the street and the issue… and once the demonstration ran out of steam, we’d go split a pitcher of beer or two.

This was on my mind when I was working my graveyard shift job at the Cincinnati post office.  I was processing letters mailed by Cincinnati Right to Life.  Its return address featured three small pictures–a fetus, a very elderly woman, and a child who was clearly developmentally disabled.  Had Ted Bundy’s face been on  this envelope, I would truly believed they believed in the right to life.  Period.

It is odd that the same party and the same people who spread the deceit about “death panels” would host a Website featuring the faces of politicians they oppose with cross-hairs superimposed on their faces.

My biggest fear is that this is not over.