For a conservative columnist responding to the obscene, leftist circus surrounding the soul-wounding shooting in Tucson, the devil on one shoulder so easily gets the upper hand over the angel on the other. The grief and empathy barely had time to inspire cogent response before being replaced by rage against the paranoid leftist attacks on Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and, by extension, all conservatives. Normal human feelings, the sorts of admirable feelings that drew Americans together after 9/11 and that drew volunteers from around the country to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, were defecated upon by the sowers of discord who would portray political opponents as accessories to mass murder. The desperate urge is to strike back at these calumnious and viciously mendacious attacks, to escalate the conflict in a way that will make the leftist thugs crawl under the nastiest, most vermin-infested rock imaginable. But rather than escalate the language, the imperative is to elevate it. Can we give any voice to the angel who sits on the shoulder that is, quite naturally, on the right?
The temptation is to burn Paul Krugman in effigy, which would be no more than a taste of his own medicine. The temptation would be to wish that Chris Matthews would swallow a CO2 pellet and explode like a giant blimp. The almost irresistible dream would be to yell from the rooftops the obvious truth about what a cretinous scumball Keith Olbermann is, and watch so many people raise their voices in agreement that the Olberweasel cries in shame.
But the angel on the right won’t allow this column to degenerate to that level. Really. The angel won’t let us put an electoral target over the sheriff’s office in Pima County, even though its current occupant deserves to be defeated in the biggest landslide since Bill Buckley threatened to demand a recount. The angel won’t let us put the sheriff’s words in our cross-hairs. The little demon on the left does, however, beckon mighty enticingly.
The angel’s wisdom is unyielding, though. It is much quieter, but it is admirably insistent. It is the wisdom of the George Washington who held his tongue throughout the entire Constitutional Convention. It is the forbearance of the Jackie Robinson who transcended the vicious treatment of bigots by letting his own excellence, character, and work ethic speak for itself. It is the unmatched decency of the Jack Kemp who always tried to find something good or admirable in his erstwhile opponents. It is the innate goodness of the hundreds of millions of Americans who respond to almost any tragedy around the world with unmatched generosity, who rally against tyranny in foreign hellholes, who spend more time volunteering than almost any other people, and who are the most personally industrial populace in the developed world.
The real story in Tucson is of heroism and kindness. It is of the neighbor who kindly offered to take a nine-year-old to see her congresswoman. It is of the husband who gave his life shielding his wife. It is of the two men — one of them with a head bleeding from a bullet grazing — who tackled the shooter, and of the woman who grabbed his backup weapons clip and kneeled on his leg, and of the young man who took her place holding his legs while she sought to provide first aid to others.
The real story is of the now-famous intern who cradled the congresswoman and kept her alive, and of the medics and doctors who did their jobs so well, and of the victims’ families who comforted each other. Not the least, of course, it is the story of a remarkably plucky Gabrielle Giffords, holding on for life, and her astronaut husband rushing to be by her side.
Also, if you could do a massive screen-save of conservative blogs in the hours immediately after the shooting, you would see nothing but empathy, prayers, kind words for Rep. Giffords, and expressions of horror at the violence and senselessness of it all. As, of course, should have been expected, because conservatives are Americans too, and because we are human. We are not, and never have been, haters. We are not bigots, or prone to violence, or even prone to unusually pugilistic rhetoric. We just aren’t.
(“But those blasted leftists are those things!” yells the demon. “Didn’t you see those Journo-Listers who laughed at the idea of watching Rush Limbaugh get ‘bug-eyed’ while dying?!”)
Patience, lad, patience. This isn’t about right and left.
There’s nothing wrong with calling for civility, and with providing for it. There’s everything good about emulating the gentlemanly qualities of, say, Joe Lieberman, or the unfailing graciousness of former Congresswoman and Ambassador to the Vatican Lindy Boggs. There is nobility in the genuine friendship enjoyed by Barry Goldwater and John F. Kennedy, who had planned with each other to campaign in side-by-side forums if they faced each other in the 1964 general election. It would have mirrored the good will produced in the famous Virginia campaign for the very first U.S. Congress under the new Constitution, when James Madison and James Monroe traveled together as friends, throughout their district, while campaigning against each other.
This shooting, like the 9/11 atrocity and the attack on Pearl Harbor, could have and should have engendered a rallying together of conservatives and liberals in shared affirmation of this nation’s bedrock strength of character and of the abidingness of our institutions. It could have and should have focused us all, again, on the human tragedy of serious mental illness, and on finding humane ways to better deal with it.
We are Americans, fergoshsakes. We are better than this. We are exceptional. And we all are endowed by God not just with a potential for sin but also with the better angels of human nature, so that we can and should strive to respond to tragedy with kindness, intelligence, and courage. We may not have the power to start the world over again, but we certainly can re-boot our reaction to the horror we saw last Saturday. C’mon, Mr. Krugman, request a Mulligan. Go ahead, Sheriff Dupnik, re-holster your word gun. And yes, conservatives, if they will retract their calumnies, we should not belabor the point, but move on. Gabby Giffords’ brother-in-law Scott Kelly can see the whole entire world from his space station. Let’s make him like what he sees emanating from the North American continent. Just one more small step for this particular branch of mankind, a step in the right direction.