What we say matters.
U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston was on his way back from a barbecue in Alma on Saturday afternoon, an event very much like the 10 a.m. gathering at the Safeway that Gabrielle Giffords had attended in Tucson, Ariz.
Both events were public — well-advertised and open to anyone and everyone. A chance to meet the federal government up close and personal.
“I do think it’s really important as a society that we take the edge off our positions,” said Kingston over an aide’s cell phone. For one thing, humor has been lacking in our national conversation, he said. The congressman recommends more. “It kind of calms things down.”
Kingston has a reputation as one of Washington’s best communicators – the message man for House Republicans. But as he pointed himself toward Savannah, Kingston was – like everyone else – in search of information, and answers.
As we talked, the identity of the dead federal judge rolled across computer screen. The fact of a dead 9-year-old child joined the tragedy. Giffords, his House colleague, hovered between life and death – the first member of Congress felled by a bullet since Leo Ryan was gunned down in Guyana in 1978 by followers of Jim Jones.
“She’s one of the most popular and delightful members of Congress,” Kingston said. “Her husband’s an astronaut – so she’s got that celebrity flair.”
Kingston’s one personal encounter with Giffords was of the red-faced variety. She’d taken a wrong turn into the men’s locker room of the House gym, and caught the Georgia congressman in his underwear – getting physical therapy on a bad knee.
She is known among her colleagues as a moderate. Giffords voted for health care reform last spring. She opposed Arizona’s immigration law, but supported tougher measures to prohibit illegal immigration.
Last Wednesday, she was one of 19 Democrats who declined to vote for Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader. Giffords cast a symbolic vote for U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta.
Because she was not at either end of the political spectrum, her shooting puzzled him, Kingston said. “She would be the last person you’d figure as a target for anyone.”
Except that it is the moderate voices among both Democrats and Republicans that have been targeted for elimination in the current political climate. Sometimes quite literally.
Giffords was one of 20 Democrats on a graphic posted by Sarah Palin’s political action committee last spring, each marked for elimination with the crosshairs of a gun sight. On Saturday, the website offered condolences to Giffords, her family, and the other victims.
What we say, and how we say it, matters.
There evidence that the alleged 22-year-old Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, is mentally unstable. Those who want a stronger gun culture in the United States undoubtedly fear that he will become the poster child for those who want tighter controls on weaponry.
But they miss the point. Sociologists will tell you that courtly speech – the careful presentation of facts and points of view, stripped of any possibility of insult – has been a feature in many highly armed cultures precisely because human beings aren’t always the most rational creatures. (“Smile when you say that, pardner.”)
But we have decided to mix highly efficient and highly available weaponry with highly volatile — and highly available — language. Kingston knows that he and his colleagues, both Democrat and Republican, share some of the blame.
“We like the hard hitting stuff in Washington. It gets you on the news,” he said. Sane adults recognize that much of the rhetoric is political theater, and that hands are clasped and backs are slapped at day’s end.
“Our backroom behavior is often better than the front room behavior,” Kingston said.
There are many things to like about Sonny Perdue, who becomes an ex-governor of Georgia on Monday. One of the things most appealing about him was the line he constantly drew between campaign rhetoric and the real task of governing.
In one of his last interviews as governor, Perdue directed himself at those talking themselves into a fever over illegal immigration, at the expense of human beings who actually bleed when they are pricked.
“The Republican Party needs to be very, very careful that it maintains the golden rule in its rhetoric regarding immigration policy,” Perdue said. “It is a very emotive, emotion-filled topic that I think sometimes gets us out there where our hearts really aren’t.”
In other words, what we say matters.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider