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Shock, anger and finger-pointing in Washington

By LAURIE KELLMAN and LIZ SIDOTI
January 11, 2011

Speaking in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy, President Barack Obama said the nation is still in shock over the shooting rampage in Arizona that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life, but he commended the courage of the people on the scene who rushed to help, saying their actions reflect the "best of America." (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

On opposite sides of the political spectrum, President Barack Obama and new House Speaker John Boehner suddenly face the same challenge: rise above the anger, suspicion and hostility of their liberal and conservative bases to help a rattled nation deal with the deadly outburst of violence in Arizona.

But what comes after the easy moment of silence?

For now, both men are stepping past the question of what role, if any, the vitriol of the past election campaign played in Saturday’s shooting rampage that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in critical condition and six others dead. Instead, they’re grappling with the high-stakes test the tragedy presents over how to lead the nation going forward.

Obama, the Democratic president halfway through his term, has spoken of his regret for not having raised the level of political discourse in a deeply divided nation. Boehner, the newly installed Republican House speaker, is second in line to the presidency but has yet to shape his role as a national figure.

For both men, the path ahead is perilous, filled with the political risk of alienating parts of the stunned electorate.

The parties’ rank-and-file supporters handle the nuts and bolts of electoral politics — fundraising, door-knocking and the like. But they also are sources of the red-hot rhetoric that inflames passions, with right- and left-leaning talk radio, cable networks and Internet sites their outlets of choice.

Those Republican and Democratic foot soldiers may not appreciate calls from the top to tone it down, though the center of the electorate, detesting ideological warfare and wanting those in Washington to work together, certainly will.

“All of us are still grieving and in shock from the tragedy that took place,” Obama said Monday, calling for healing and sidestepping any potentially divisive issues. He is to travel to Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday to speak at a memorial service for the victims, the White House said.

“It’s going to be important, I think, for the country as a whole, as well as the people of Arizona, 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,” Obama said.

How — or whether — to do that is an unsettled question among newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Boehner has wide latitude, said former House historian Raymond Smock.

“I think he has the potential to have a very important role in how Congress responds and the public tone that is set,” said Smock, director of the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies.

For now, Boehner is responding as head of the House, not the leader of just one party. In a conference call over the weekend, he told lawmakers of both parties that an attack on one member of Congress is an attack on all.

“What is critical is that we stand together at this dark time as one body,” he said. “We need to rally around our wounded colleague, the families of the fallen and the people of Arizona’s 8th District. And, frankly, we need to rally around each other.”

In one quick action, House Republicans postponed a vote this week that was certain to be divisive on repealing Obama’s health care overhaul. Debate over it last summer prompted threats and vandalism against lawmakers, including Giffords.

Instead, the House was poised to take up a resolution Wednesday supporting Giffords and the other shooting victims.

In Columbus, Ohio, on Monday, Boehner attended the swearing-in of a longtime friend, new Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“It was a horrible tragedy,” Boehner said of the Tucson shootings. “I’m not going to say anything more than that.”

None of that prevented finger-pointing from the far sides of the political spectrum. Both the left and the right hurled accusations that the other was inciting violence. The suspect’s political leanings weren’t clear.

Some Democrats cast blame on the right-leaning tea party movement and Sarah Palin. She had told her followers “Don’t retreat; reload” last year and used crosshairs to denote congressional districts, including Giffords’, where she wanted Republicans to win.

Conservatives, in turn, said the left is just as nasty in its rhetoric. They pointed out that it was Obama who declared during the 2008 presidential campaign, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun.”

Over the weekend, Obama said, “What Americans do at times of tragedy is to come together and support each other.”

The man accused of the shootings, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, appeared in court late Monday. He was ordered held without bail.

The night before the violence, Giffords was trying to show a peaceful path.

In an e-mail to a friend in Kentucky discussing how to “promote centrism and moderation,” she congratulated Republican Secretary of State Trey Grayson on his new position at Harvard University.

“After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation,” Giffords wrote. “I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down.”

Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press

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4 Responses to Shock, anger and finger-pointing in Washington

  1. Sandune

    January 11, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    What I can see, we have learned two important bits of information on this mess. The Democrats tried to bring in a leader who had been involved in peace keeping issues in Chicago. The effort took a lot of soul searching and a hope that a bright African America could be elected and given a chance to prove himself.

    On the other hand, we have learned that the Republican Party had not faced the issues of our economic failure and had nothing to offer the campaign of 2008 except to run the Democratic Candidate through the wringer. For the most part, Senator Obama did not look like the GOP and with his Muslim name could not have been born in America.This is the same GOP who would not vote for Senator Goldwater as he had to have been Jewish.

    The Republican National Committee headed by Hayley Barbour refused to finance our San Luis Obispo Congresswoman because she did not want a federal law against abortion. The NRC became obsessed with demanding the laws of Papal be included in our platform. They still are and according to the NRC will never promote any Republican who is pro-choice.

    Republicans who are pro-choice are now called RINOs and treated badly at meetings and on forums. Hell, I’ve lost a lot of elections but never by a group who believe America is a Christian Nation and always will be.

    There will never be any agreement across the aisle until our federal government has a white man in the white house. This makes me sick and embarrassed to be an American. I thought as I watched the news on Saturday that America is lucky to have President Obama in the White House. Had McCain been elected there is no doubt in my mind that Governor Palin would have done him in and been President herself. She would have been told by God to accomplish this. There would be great rejoicing in the RNC.

  2. woody188

    January 11, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    If politics has anything to do with the shooting, it certainly pertains to Congress saying one thing and then doing another. I’m sure that is what Loughner meant when he asked about words having no meaning.

    Obama says he’s going to get single payer healthcare and ends up with mandated health insurance. Obama says he’s going to close GITMO and end torture, but GITMO is open and torture continues. Obama says he’s going to have the most transparent White House in history, then he hides everything behind the veil of national security. Obama says he won’t have lobbyists in his White House, then he fills his cabinet with lobbyists. Obama says he’ll restore our freedoms, then he increases warrant-less wiretaps, TSA begins invasive searches and naked scanning, and declares assassination via Predator drone legal and necessary. I’m picking on Obama here but the same could be said of most of Congress.

    If politicians want to take something away from this instance, it’s that you can’t continue to ignore the majority of people to serve the minority. Less than 15% approve of Congress, and they can’t seem to figure out why their constituents are so upset. It seems if the bourgeoisie is going to paint a target on the proletariat, then the proletariat might literally do the same in kind. Perhaps some Americans do have the cajones to follow words with action.

  3. Almandine

    January 11, 2011 at 10:17 pm

  4. griff

    January 11, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    Wow! If it’s one thing we Americans have down to a science, it’s overreacting.

    …”rattled nation”

    …”stunned electorate”

    And of course uising terms like “foot soldiers” and “ideological warfare” really help.

    Is any one outside the Political Class really that “stunned” or “rattled”?

    I’m not. I have my own shit to worry about. Sorry.

    Washington, DC has long been called the murder capitol of the country. Where’s the outrage over this? How about in Detroit? Los Angeles? Miami? Does Obama observe a moment of silence every time some one is murdered in the very city he resides?

    Oh, that’s right, it happened to one of the Hill People, not some sub-human innercity gang-banger or helpless grandmother.