Jeremy Cutcher is a political science senior and Mustang Daily liberal columnist.
I decided not to write about Tucson last week because I felt a week’s time would dispel the fabricated narratives and rumor-mongering that often runs rampant in the media following any national tragedy and thus have a more accurate idea of what actually occurred and why. But a week and a half since the shooting has only left more questions and fewer answers.
I do know six people died and 13 were injured. I know the accused killer in his mug shot looks absolutely psychotic, chillingly proud of the massacre he had just committed. I know my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims of such a senseless crime. That’s about all I know.
That’s why President Obama’s speech was perfect. Even his most strident opponents, from Glenn Beck to Pat Buchanan, praised him for the speech. As president during a national tragedy, Obama was supposed to rise above the politics and unite the nation — and that’s exactly what he did.
Obama talked at length about the inflamed political rhetoric used to attack the opposing side that has dominated political discourse over the last decade or so, picking up on one of the common themes from his presidential campaign. There is a fine line between impassioned politics and impassionate, and it seems we have crossed over to the latter. Pundits and bloggers now talk of opposing viewpoints as if they belong to their enemies, not to fellow citizens doing what they think is best for them and their country. The polarized nature of politics today breeds this vitriol which then sustains itself as rational modesty evaporates.
Talks of “reloading” and using “Second Amendment remedies” should have no place in politics. And though there is no direct connection between the political rhetoric and the shooting, that does not mean the tragedy should not represent a wake-up call to see that, as the president said, “The forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” As Americans, we actually agree on a wide range of issues — it’s just that we never discuss them (consider the idea of going back to a feudal society, or installing a dictator or abolishing Congress, etc.).
The poverty of speaking in such hyperbole is the violent and ballistic rhetoric that gets people excited for politics rather than a thorough understanding of the issues. It inflames passions for those intoxicated with the conservative populism that has gripped much of the nation, reminding them of revolutionary times and giving importance to their cause rather than being instilled with a simple civic spirit and desire to find common ground. Asking for civility is not calling for censorship; it’s aspiring to higher political discourse, to coming to an understanding with the opposing side, not just to belittle it in an effort to undermine it.
The most powerful point in Obama’s speech was when he invoked the childhood optimism of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green participating in politics for the first time. “Imagine — imagine for a moment, 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 some day 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 and 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 to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America 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.”
The cynicism many of us carry with us into politics did not originate in childhood. Indeed, as children, we are spoon-fed American Exceptionalism and democratic ideals so that we truly believed America is the greatest nation and can do no evil in the world. But as we mature, and become more aware of the world in which we live, it is easier to cast off our disappointment with politics and government than it is to try to fix it, easier to blame corrupt politicians or powerful interest groups than it is to see the failure of our own political discourse.
No one wants the blame, but we must all accept some of it. And if we all make a conscious effort to work towards that ideal of our country we all held as children, we will be making good progress toward making a more perfect union.