Published January 11, 2011
Obama Faces Test in Memorial Remarks
"It's going to be important…to feel as if we are speaking directly to our sense of loss, but also speaking to our hopes for the future and how out of this tragedy we can come together as a stronger nation.”
-- President Obama talking to reporters.
President Obama will address the nation about the Tucson shooting rampage from a memorial service to be held for its victims on Wednesday at the University of Arizona.
The timing of the speech seems appropriate since doctors are increasingly optimistic about the condition of the target of the rampage, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Today seems to be the crucial day as doctors monitor swelling in her brain, but the indications so far seem to be that she has stabilized, is still responsive to commands from doctors and has not shown signs of increased swelling.
While doctors were also optimistic that the trajectory of the gunman’s bullet – from back to front at an upward angle – may have spared vital portions of the congresswoman’s brain, there is no doubt that even if she survives the current peril, her road to recovery would be a long one.
On Wednesday, Obama may be able to point to Giffords’ recovery as a ray of hope in the shadow of six dead and 13 others injured.
But, how will Obama address the subject? It will be a defining moment for his presidency.
If Obama opts to use the moment to discuss the need to quiet our political discourse, he will please Democrats who believe that there is a link between the killing and partisan rhetoric. But, with all evidence suggesting that the alleged gunman, Jared Loughner, lacked any coherent political connections, such remarks from the president would themselves be seen as partisan.
Loughner, a registered independent who did not vote in the midterm elections, looked like a man possessed before his court appearance Monday – a ghoulish figure with a shaved head and a deranged smile.
If Obama looks to suggest that partisan rancor helped create a “climate” that drove Loughner to act, he will lose his chance to use the speech as a teachable moment for the conservatives at whom he would be directing his remarks. Blaming those on the right without evidence and then attempting to instruct them is not going to work.
But his own political base is howling for recriminations against conservatives who they believe created a “climate” that encouraged Loughner to act. Even as evidence piled up that Loughner exists in no climate but the one of his own making, those in the president’s party continued to suggest that somehow their political opponents were to blame.
As he figures out his lesson plan, the president may opt to instruct on a narrower subject and praise the heroes of the day, mourn the lost, pray for the suffering and avoid drawing broad cultural conclusions.
A year ago, there is little doubt that Obama would have instructed on the dangers of partisanship. The new, more publicly cautious Obama may not. But if he does, it is unlikely to produce the healing he is seeking.
Dems Blame Media for Tucson Rampage
"[Limbaugh] attacks people, angers them against government, angers them against elected officials and that kind of behavior in my opinion is not without consequences."
-- Pima County, Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik to ABC News.
It should be perhaps a testimony to Rush Limbaugh’s longevity and success as a broadcaster that he has now been blamed for two mass murders 15 years apart.
Clinton Democrats blamed conservative talker Limbaugh for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing carried out by Timothy McVeigh. In fact, Bill Clinton revisited the line at the memorial ceremony in Oklahoma City in April of this year, warning against “demonizing” the government and suggesting that it had been critics of his administration, like Limbaugh, who had set off McVeigh.
Compared to the suspect in the Tucson massacre, McVeigh did have a coherent political philosophy. McVeigh was an anti-government, white separatist who believed that the federal government was a tool of oppression. His was the act of a revolutionary.
But McVeigh wasn’t a Dittohead. While his views may have shared a distrust of the government with many on the American right (and, say, Patrick Henry), he was way far out on that limb. McVeigh was reading apocalyptic, white-supremacist fantasies like the “Turner Diaries,” not listening to talk radio.
Clinton was accused of using a tragedy to muzzle his political opponents, who were, at that moment incensed of the handling of the Waco siege of the Branch Davidians and other perceived examples of a too-powerful federal government. But, even if it was exploitive, it was at least somewhat coherent. In a very, very broad sense, Clinton could lump together everyone on the right with McVeigh. As noted, that lump would also have to include the Founding Fathers and George Orwell, but it at least was a lump.
Clinton seized the moment and, with the help of a credulous press corps, made the characterization stick.
Now, the effort to take political advantage of the Tucson shooting is not faring very well.
Suspect Jared Loughner seems to lack the ideological coherence to be lumped in with anybody. Exhibiting strong signs of schizophrenia, Loughner’s murderous rage seems to have been fueled by what he believed was a personal slight by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a 2007 event similar to the one at which he allegedly opened fire.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik , a Democrat, said that Republicans trying to stop Democratic “progress” were to blame. He also suggested that Sarah Palin might have been responsible. But after three days, finally turned to Rush Limbaugh.
Many on the left have been quick to blame Limbaugh and FOX News for the incident, and some have suggested equal complicity. But, they have a less useful suspect in Loughner than the Clinton Democrats did in McVeigh.
When Can Congress Get Back to Work?
"I will be introducing legislation this week on the large capacity clips that average citizens are able to still buy. This was something in the assault weapons bill that was in existence for 10 years. It expired unfortunately in 2004 cause unfortunately the House and the Senate are pro-gun houses."
- Rep Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., at a news conference.
The question in Congress now is how long lawmakers should wait before getting back to work after the shooting rampage aimed at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.
Now that the initial security panic has faded to a throbbing anxiety and Giffords seems to be making progress from survival to recovery, members of Congress are starting to wonder when operations can resume.
One way forward could be through a bill to be introduced by gun-control proponent Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., that would ban the sale of large ammunition clips like the one used in the Tucson massacre.
This will be a test for the NRA. The mega-magazines were banned under the Clinton-era assault weapons law, which expired in 2004. McCarthy is suggesting a narrow revival and looking for bipartisan support for the clip ban on the argument that there is no purpose for having 30 rounds in a handgun other than to inflict mass casualties.
But, the gun rights group is at the height of its political powers and has always steadfastly resisted any new restrictions on firearms purchases as steps on a slippery slope. The group helped defeat proposed restrictions on gun purchases after the Virginia Tech massacre and might seek to do so again on the clip law.
But, if the new Republican majority does push the bill forward, it might provide a way to address the attack on their colleague, allowing them to turn to new business, on other issues. But stalling might allow pro-gun Republicans to address the issue after public passions have cooled on the issue.
How GOP leaders decide to deal with a law for Giffords will determine how long it is before they can turn to their agenda. Democrats may want to use the moment to discuss other gun laws, and there will be broad support for a plan to beef up the security for members.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that anything will happen this week and next week is in doubt.
One proposed law, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Bob Brady’s plan to restrict the use of violent words or images against lawmakers, seems to have withered. Brady himself had scaled back the ambitions of the plan from an outright ban on speech deemed threatening to a bill outlawing the use of target symbols over districts like the ones used by Sarah Palin’s PAC. A law so narrowly crafted will strike his colleagues as unnecessary.
Islamists Ascendant in Pakistan
“Pakistan has been also hard hit by violence in recent months and certain episodes were directly aimed at the Christian minority. I ask that everything be done to avoid the reoccurrence of such acts of aggression, and to ensure that Christians feel fully a part of the life of their country.”
-- Pope Benedict XVI denouncing a blasphemy law in Pakistan that carries a death penalty for Christians caught proselytizing.
The public celebrations over the assassination of Pakistani provincial governor Salman Taseer have the world watching anxiously as a key Western ally in the effort in Afghanistan flirts with Islamist rule.
Pakistani pundits need not wonder the motives for Taseer’s killer, who proudly proclaimed them in court. Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, one of Taseer’s bodyguards, said he shot his victim 26 times because Taseer had offended Islam with his opposition to a new law that forbids blasphemy, which included preaching the Gospel of Jesus.
One Christian is awaiting her death sentence under the law, which Pope Benedict XVI took the unusual step of singling out in remarks to the ambassadors to the Vatican on Monday.
But rather than being the subject of opprobrium, Qadri has become a hero to many young Muslims in the nuclear-armed nation of 180 million.
The corrupt and inept civilian government seems ready to fall at any moment and the military seems strangely silent. The deepening fear among Western observers is that a junta will again take over the nation, but that this time it will have overtly Islamist overtones.
There is big trouble ahead.
Gates Loses Face After Chinese Stealth Jet Test Flight
“This is what you call political warfare.”
-- A Western diplomat in Beijing talking to the Financial Times about the staging of a test flight of a new Chinese fighter during a visit by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
When Defense Secretary Robert Gates cut funding for the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter last year he said that it was a prudent move since China would have no such planes until 2020.
In what can only be considered an attempt to embarrass Gates, China’s military staged a test flight of their stealth fighter today at the same time Gates was in Beijing meeting with President Hu Jintao.
Hu is headed to Washington for a state visit next week, and China watchers are wondering if China’s military is trying to punish him for being too cordial with the West. Others suggest that it is part of a concerted effort by the ChiComs to project power around the world.
Whatever the case, Gates’ bid to scrap strategic weapons programs like a next-generation fighter jet in the Pentagon budget, not to mention his effort to build military ties with China, suffered greatly on the trip.
Lawmakers who were previously concerned that Gates’ plan to shift money from strategic weapons to the Afghan nation building effort left the door open to China’s rise as a superpower will now be convinced they were right to worry.
And Now, A Word From Charles
“In the past, 50, 60 years ago, if you had a person who was disturbed and dangerous, you could involuntarily commit that person. In fact, I did in my days as a psychiatrist at Mass General. The standard now is much, much higher and much more difficult.”