Gabrielle Giffords at a September 2009 town hall. Photo by KFB.
I got the car dealership (owned by a prominent local Republican) to switch the showroom tv from a football game to Channel 13, KOLD. At first they just had a crawl about the shooting of my Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, over a Phoenix auto race. Soon, however, they went to continuous live coverage, which lasted for the next ten hours at least.
Gabrielle Giffords is a Blue Dog Democrat, a moderate who is well liked by everyone from President Obama to Governor Brewer. When I saw her at that town hall meeting in the fall of 2009, she struck me as a very patient, level-headed, caring adult who listens to the concerns of all of her constituents, and tries to gently educate when she can. She isn't a liberal or a firebrand by any means, but she is someone who really does try to find common ground, perhaps too much so as far as my personal politics are concerned.
Yet this moderate, described as kind and caring by Republicans and Democrats alike, was absolutely villified in the last election season, painted as a toxically liberal legislator who was personally responsible for all the ills of the world. Check out some of the campaign signs made by the 2010 Jesse Kelly campaign:
This is just one of a series of misleading, fear-mongering signs made by Jesse Kelly's 2010 Congressional campaign against Gabrielle Giffords. It implies that 1) Gabby personally made the health care bill go through by some nefarious means, and that 2) "Obamacare" is a terrible, onerous thing. Yes, she voted to end exceptions for pre-existing conditions, to stop insurance companies from dropping you when you get sick, to let your kid stay on your insurance until age 26, and to cut the Federal deficit along the way. Good for her!
This one implies that the voter's personal Medicare benefits have been cut. This is pretty much the news from opposite-land. The bill cuts waste, not benefits, and helps seniors in the "donut hole" on their prescriptions. Kelly was a much bigger threat to Social Security and Medicare than Giffords.
Here's another one. Republicans supported the Wall Street bailout too at the time - and most of the banks have paid this money back with interest. Wall Street is far from blameless, but the bailout turned out to be a necessary and reasonably effective investment in stabilizing an economy in crisis.
There were more, but I don't have pictures of all of them. You get the idea. Voters were led to believe that Gabrielle Giffords was personally out to ruin their health and their finances, when in fact she was dedicated to the opposite. The rhetoric was so extreme that it has inspired extreme reactions from members of the lunatic fringe. Last year, someone smashed the glass door of Gabby's office with a brick - or something. Neighboring Congressman Raul Grijalva, far more liberal and outspoken than Gabby, had a gunshot and a suspicious package at his office.
And now this. The main suspect in the shooting seems to be pretty delusional, but the form of his delusion is mostly political. Who knows whether the killer (Gabby lives, but six others are dead) was influenced by the hateful and violent words and images that have made their way into recent political discourse? Who knows whether he was partly inspired by Sarah Palin's map with crosshairs over 20 "targeted" Congressional districts, including Giffords' CD8? Who knows whether he attended Jesse Kelly's campaign event that included the opportunity to shoot off a semi-automatic weapon? (A web ad promoting this event said, "Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.") Who knows whether the shooter believed that "Obamacare" was part of a grand mind control conspiracy, and that Gabrielle Giffords was part of it?
Perhaps none of those things had an impact on this 22-year-old alleged killer, or anyone else involved in the shooting. Nevertheless, this political climate, in which a high profile Senate candidate spoke of "second amendment remedies" in case Republicans and tea party candidates didn't win, and gun-toting protesters appeared ready and willing to "water the tree of liberty" with blood, seems exceedingly likely to incite actions like this. I've been worried for over a year that sooner or later, someone was going to be shot, out of a sincere but crazy belief that such an act was right and necessary. I'm just shocked that it was Gabby who took the first hit.
She surely didn't deserve this. Nobody does.