LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF THE WILD WEST
Musings on the attempted assassination of
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the
senseless deaths of others in said attempt
Sunday, January 9, 2011
by Richard E. Berg-Andersson
On the morning of Saturday 8 January 2011- a mere three days after the convening, in Washington, of the newly-elected Congress and a mere five days after newly elected and re-elected Congressmen constitutionally began their new two-year terms in office- one of those newly re-elected Congressmen, Ms. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona) was shot and seriously wounded- at a public event sponsored by her office in Tucson, Arizona- by a gunman who also wounded at least a dozen others, while killing at least 6 (including the Presiding Judge of the U.S. District of Arizona, John Roll, who- by all accounts- was just there to say 'Hi' to Ms. Giffords, if not also to discuss a little Federal business with her ["wrong place, wrong time"]; Gabe Zimmerman, a member of Ms. Giffords' own staff; a 9-year-old girl named Christina Taylor-Green who had just been elected to her school's student council and- as a result- had wanted to meet Congresswoman Giffords [a girl who, by all accounts, was actually born on 11 September 2001, by the way!]; and at least three senior citizens who- by the best accounts as of this typing- were merely there to talk, if only for a few moments, to their own Member of Congress about their political concerns, something every American citizen should have the right and freedom to do when the occasion presents itself!
Just a couple days before the shooting, the House of Representatives of the newly convened 112th Congress of the United States spent a portion of its legislative day having members thereof- some Democrats as well as Republicans- read, into the Congressional Record, the text of the Constitution of the United States (as amended: though there was much made of the fact that controversial [if only, at least in some cases, in the realm of historical controversy] sections, long since done away with by the process of amendment, were not included in this reading): Congressman John Lewis (D-Georgia), a one-time Civil Rights activist who once- as chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee- spoke at the same gathering before the Lincoln Memorial in late August 1963 at which Dr. Martin Luther King- himself to later be the victim of assassination- gave his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech, read the 13th Amendment to the fundamental document prohibiting slavery and involuntary servitude, except as punishment for a crime; Congressman Giffords herself read the 1st Amendment. Much was made- in the aftermath of last Saturday's events of the irony that the 1st Amendment Ms. Giffords read so publicly just days before being cut down by a would-be assassin includes the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
But *I* see a much different irony therein:
for the reading of the American Constitution on the floor of the lower chamber of Congress was connected to a rule change, instituted by the new Republican majority, that each bill taken up by that body include the specific constitutional provision under which the bill in question is being enacted: whatever the ultimate efficaciousness of such a thing may- or may not- be, this is something that is an element of the policy options being proposed by that faction within the Republican Party that has lately come under the rubric "Tea Party".
Here's the irony: the 'Tea Party' movement sees itself as principled defenders of the United States Constitution... but the act from which this faction derives its name- the original Boston Tea Party of 16 December 1773- was, in fact, an attack on a Constitution- in this case, the English Constitution: for the Sons of Liberty- aided by the so-called South End Mob- intended to, by their actions, disrupt the economic system still being put into place by the nascent British Empire (in this case, the favored status having been granted- by Parliament- to the British East India Company).
Guerilla Political Theatre a-la Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and the 'Yippies' of the late 1960s or bold, dynamic act of albeit abject Economic Terrorism? I leave the answer to that question to the professional historians!
But, to at least amateur historian me, it is interesting that the political philosophy behind the Boston Tea Party was one of "we don't need your stinkin' Crown" that, indeed, guided the eventually rebelling Colonies to become the 13 "free and independent States" who so claimed their Independence through the instrument known to the world as the Declaration of Independence. Once that manifesto was formally engrossed by act of the Continental Congress on 4 July 1776, each of the 'original 13' was, in fact, so "free and independent"- not only from Britain, but also from every other such "free and independent" State: the only way for said States to form a united front while still being so "free and independent" was Confederation (which, in the United States, has- thereby- a rather different meaning than it does in neighboring Canada, where it means pretty much the same as "federation").
However, Confederation- in the main- didn't work: or, at least, it was not at all conducive to mitigating political and economic squabbling amongst the States which threatened their very freedom and independence. Thus, the Constitution of the United States itself: as often pointed out- by me- on this very website, more or less a home-brew version of the British Empire and its "Imperial System" to which the Boston Tea Party (or, for that matter, the more recent Shays's Rebellion!) had once been so dramatic an opposition.
The new American "Empire"- crafted so as to be a "more perfect Union" (certainly more perfect than the failing Confederation could be!)- would, like its British counterpart- have its own "King", except he would wear no crown and his High Office would not be hereditary: instead, he would be elected and have set terms of years after which he would have to face re-election or retire. The new Union would also have its own "Parliament"- the Congress of the United States (the very name of which purposely evoking the hitherto governing [well... sort of!] Continental Congresses which continued during the period of Confederation)- with its own "House of Commons", the House of Representatives- to be elected under a more generous, less class- and.or privilege-based franchise (despite limitations on same- based on economic status, gender and even race- that we ourselves in early 21st Century America find rather harshly restrictive) than that under which the equivalent body in Britain was, at the time, being chosen- and its own "House of Lords", the United States Senate- not based on the privilege of peerage but as an honor to be conferred on the leading men of each State of the new Union by that State's own legislature. Moreover, the new Union would have an independent Judiciary which, unlike in Britain (where judges were no less 'Ministers of the Crown' than those administering His Majesty's Government [a legacy of which, here in the States, is that Federal judges- along with executive officers (including the President of the United States himself)- are subject to impeachment and removal from office by Congress, but members of Congress can only be censured, excluded or expelled by their fellow legislators]), would from a third, separate branch of the Government checking the other two- the legislative and the executive branches.
The new "more perfect Union" would, like the Britain from which it had lately freed itself, even have its own Colonies [!] and, no less than Britain herself had done, leave it to the supreme legislature to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting such 'Territories' (per Article IV, Section 3. clause 2 of the Federal Constitution itself): though Congress, for its part (and even while the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia was still meeting, via the original 'Northwest Ordinance' issued by the Confederation Congress on 13 July 1787: itself adapted and re-adopted by the new Federal Congress as the Northwest Territory Act [1 Stat. 50] and signed into law by President George Washington on 7 August 1789) made certain to not make the same mistakes Britain herself had made through providing for what the British would later come to call "responsible government", in which there was a local legislature responsible to the inhabitants of said Territory (no "taxation without representation" here!).
The political philosophy behind such as the Boston Tea Party and Shays's Rebellion was, therefore, left to be fought for by those opposed to Ratification of the new instrument of Federal Government- those who came to be called 'Anti-federalists'; simply put: those who lost the ensuing battle over Ratification. How ironic, then, that the early 21st Century 'Tea Party' movement sees itself as a veritable lynchpin of constitutional governance under that very same instrument (again, as since amended)?
Now, note well, gentle reader: the 'Tea Party' movement had- and has- nothing at all directly to do with the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, the concomitant murder of Federal judge Roll or the killing and wounding of the other innocents caught up in that terrible incident this past Saturday. Indeed, many a 'Tea Party' supported Republican has publicly condemned the attempted assassination and its effects most strongly.
But this does not, in any wise, lower the potential effect of inflammatory rhetoric- manifested by at least some within that movement over the first half of President Obama's current term in office- on events such as this one.
For instance: Ms. Giffords' most recent opponent in her race for Congress last year, Republican Jesse Kelly, called- at one point during that campaign- for a gathering in opposition to Ms. Giffords during which he himself would show off an M16 rifle! To be most fair to Mr. Kelly, his campaign website now- as I type this- contains a message of condolence for Ms. Giffords and the others- dead and alive- who were victims of this shooting rampage; indeed, Kelly's site- rather forcefully- includes the comment that "[s]enseless acts of violence such as this have absolutely no place in American politics" (to which *I* can only add 'Amen!') and I have no reason- and, further, would think it most unfair for others- to at all suggest that Mr. Kelly is not the least bit sincere in his reaction to what his own website terms both a "stunning tragedy" and a "horrible act".
At the same time, however, it should be noted that the slogan of Mr. Kelly's recent campaign was 'Limited Government. Fiscal Sanity. Free Market Solutions'-- "Political Sanity", however, was- if only at times- sorely, where not also most clearly, lacking. His own campaign manager was quoted as saying "I don't get the connection" before noting that there is no evidence that the alleged shooter in this incident was at all directly connected with the Kelly campaign and then saying, again, "I don't get it"...
sad to say, he probably doesn't get it...
but *I* do!
When you have such things as, say, a person- one seriously being "talked up" as a possible Republican Party nominee for President of the United States come 2012- tweeting (an act which, in itself, suggests at least something of the air of flippancy, where not also outright disregard for its potential consequences) such as "Don't Retreat. Reload" (really not all that much different than erstwhile contender for the Republican Presidential Nomination back in the 1990s, Pat Buchanan, having utilized the phrase "Lock and Load" [just a note in passing: Buchanan's 1996 bid for the Presidency foundered upon the rocks of the Arizona Presidential Primary that year, in which he not only finished behind eventual GOP nominee Bob Dole but also behind first-place finisher Malcolm "Steve" Forbes: apparently, a campaign based on Fiscal Sanity had here well trumped Political Insanity in the Grand Canyon State]-- so this kind of heated political rhetoric is really nothing all that new), there is created, thereby, a rather thin line between Metaphor and Action (albeit, in this horrific case, one so clearly confused with Accomplishment! [no less than those horrific acts which took place on the very day young Christina Taylor-Green had been born])
One hopes that what transpired over this weekend might well give one pause before continuing, in the course of political debate, to invoke the more bloody- nay, even more "apocalyptic"- imagery from the American Revolution and its immediate aftermath...
but I still have to wonder whether it, indeed, will.