Longworth at Large

“Congressional Shooting: Lessons Not Learned”
By now we all know the story about a friendly gathering of politicians that turned violent. Suddenly, without warning, shots rang out, and a member of Congress lay wounded on the ground. Days later, elected officials boasted about a new spirit of bi-partisan unity that would grow out of the attack. This wasn’t last week in Alexandria, Virginia. It was six years ago in Tuscon, Arizona.
On that day, Representative Gabby Giffords was gunned down while attending a constituents meeting in a shopping center parking lot. The shooter also killed a federal judge and wounded several other people who were in attendance. Ms. Giffords, a pro-gun control Democrat, survived the assassination attempt, and her high-profile rehabilitation was expected to inspire bi-partisan cooperation on Capitol Hill, especially when it came time to vote on gun reform. But Congress has an historically short attention span, and an even shorter memory. Even though one of their own was nearly murdered by a nut with a gun, not a single piece of legislation was passed to curtail the sale or use of guns.
It has been a week since Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise and his Republican colleagues were attacked while practicing for their annual Congressional baseball game. Scalise is still in critical condition, and several others are still recovering from their wounds. The baseball game went off as scheduled, and it turned into a love fest between the two political parties. A commentator for FOX News noted that, “Republicans and Democrats are coming together to wear LSU caps in honor of Scalise.” And, though Dems won the contest, they awarded the trophy to the GOP so it could go on display in Scalise’s office. What wonderful gestures! But if 2011 is any indication, those gestures will prove to be hollow. Soon, things will be back to normal, and the two Parties will battle each other to a standstill over healthcare, taxes, immigration, and Russia. And, oh yes, don’t look for any substantive gun reform legislation either. Sadly, that’s just the way things are in Washington. Old habits die hard. Gun victims die much easier. The fact is that D.C. politicians are better at pointing fingers than they are at solving problems. Perhaps we all are.
Anytime there’s a mass shooting, folks from all walks of life are quick to blame other folks from all walks of life. First and foremost, of course, the shooter is to blame for pulling the trigger, but the media loves to analyze what motivates such killers. In the case of last week’s baseball field incident, the perpetrator, James Hodgkinson, was a liberal extremist and Bernie Sanders supporter who hated Donald Trump, and wanted to assassinate Republicans. So naturally, the news media sought out Senator Sanders for an official statement, as if he was somehow responsible for Hodgkinson’s behavior. They did much the same thing in 2011.
Just prior to the Tuscon shooting, Republican darling Sarah Palin urged her followers to “target” Democrats, especially Rep. Giffords. Palin’s website even featured the image of a rifle scope with crosshairs. Immediately following the attack on Giffords, Democrats and the media blamed Palin for inciting violence. Even today, Palin is still having to defend those political ads, and deny that there was any intent to harm Giffords.
Though they are polar opposites, politicians like Sanders and Palin strike a nerve with their followers. The question is, can political rhetoric cause or lead to violence? GOP Congressman Mark Sanford believes so. Last week in an interview with MSNBC, he reminded viewers that during the 2016 campaign, candidate Donald Trump once told a rally that he’d like to punch a protestor in the nose, and would pay the legal bills of anyone who did so. The suggestion is that Trump’s bluster eventually led Mr. Hodgkinson to spray fifty bullets at defenseless Republican Congressmen. But vitriol hasn’t been the sole property of conservatives like Donald Trump. Democrat Rep. Maxine Waters once referred to Republicans as “scumbags”, while other members of her Party call for impeachment on a daily basis, suggesting that Trump and his Cabinet are corrupt traitors.
Speaking of liberals, Democrat-leaning entertainers are also being blamed for last week’s violence. Comedian Kathy Griffin recently held up a fake severed head of Trump, covered in blood. Madonna told thousands of women that she had thought about “blowing up the White House.” Snoop Dog produced a music video in which he pretends to shoot a Trump look-a-like. And just last week in New York City, a theatre production of Julius Caesar portrayed the famed emperor as Donald Trump, so that the brutal assassination scene would send some kind of sick message to the audience.
Following the Giffords incident in Arizona, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik spoke with the New York Times about the political climate in America, as a factor in politically motivated shootings. Said Dupnik, “When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government…The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous.” Perhaps Sheriff Dupnik didn’t realize how prophetic his words were. What should be peaceful town hall meetings have turned into shouting matches and worse. It’s gotten so bad that a number of Congressmen have stopped holding town halls altogether. Meanwhile, a growing number of other members now refuse to wear their Congressional lapel pin for fear of being targeted, and Rep. Chris Collins said he’s going to start carrying a gun. The fact is that we’re all partially to blame for the divisions in our country, and that’s why we need to choose our words more carefully. We also need to elect real leaders who will stop fighting among themselves, and start fighting for changes that will improve quality of life for all Americans.
Six years ago, the only concession Congress made in honor of Gabby Giffords was agreeing for both Parties to sit together at the 2011 State of the Union Address. Six years later, Congress has agreed for a baseball trophy to sit on Steve Scalise’s desk. Here’s hoping they agree to set an example of civility, tone down the rhetoric, and work together to pass meaningful legislation. It’s time for Congress to really play ball with each other.
Jim Longworth is host of “Triad Today” which airs Saturdays at 7:30am on abc45 (cable 7) and Sundays at 11am on MY48 (cable ch. 15) www.triadtoday.com.

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