I spoke to a tea party group on Saturday morning at 9 a.m., just hours before the horrific event in Arizona. We had a perfectly fine time, I spent most of my time explaining to friends how remarkable this country was, indeed, why it was exceptional. At one point I tried putting it something like this: You people actually invented politics, or good politics, if you like. Before you came along and discovered your own American mind on the subject, politics was nothing more than power, force, fraud. Whoever had the biggest guns ended up ruling, and it didn't really matter that he ruled on behalf of the one, the few, or the many. The rule was arbitrary and cruel and terrifying to all those being ruled. Nothing else--life, liberty, property--had as much certainty or permanence about it, as the certainty that all rule was a result of force or accident. Certainly there were times when that rule was less arbitrary and more gentle than at other times, and human beings were grateful for those accidental moments were brief. Politics was really nothing more than civil war and terror.
Then the Americans discovered a different way, because now politics had a different purpose. After asserting their natural rights, and their freedom to govern themselves, they also tried to limit their own rule. And they did. Self government brought forth a rightful rule in the Constitution and the rule of law, therefore was based on something not arbitrary. And they also knew that within that constitutional construct they reflected, deliberated, and argued. This was now both a right and an obligation. One of the reason I like the HBO: John Adams
mini series is because it so engagingly and clearly revealed the loud and talkative ways of these new people. It showed that now in principle
they had a right to talk and to argue. Reflection and choice replaced accident and force, and ballots replaced bullets. It seems ironic that we use military terms to describe our civil politics (campaign, rallying the troops, etc.); this is all we have left from the old days.
That we do all this in principle, doesn't mean that anomalies don not arise. Presidents and other politicians are, unfortunately, sometimes assassinated or killed (never mind our Civil War for a moment). That's why we find events like the killing yesterday in Arizona such a horror and that's why we all, of all parties and views, rightly denounce it. (I mention in passing, by contrast, the event in Pakistan a few days ago when a governor was assassinated and much of the country publicly rejoiced and made the culprit into a hero.)
So I come to this morning. Sen. Dick Durbin (on a talk show) is implying that our public conversations have become extreme and implying that that may be the cause of such a horrific act ("our rhetoric is over the line"), and wondered aloud on how it could be limited ("how do you come to an agreement on what is acceptable political conversation?" and "even though it is constitutional it should be toned down") is really remarkably irksome and inapropriate. What President Obama said ("Such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free
society.") and Speaker Boehner said ("An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.") should be the alpha and the omega on the subject, the rest is without value. Sen. Lamar Alexander (on the same show) rightly chastised Candy Crowley for even allowing the topics to be connected and said that the only way to answer Durbin's question is "civility." Good for Alexander and good for us.
Needless to say, I am horrified by this event and the deaths, pray that the wounded recover, and especially hope that Representative Gabriella Giffords recovers fully very quickly and gets back to arguing about politics the way she has, and we have, from the beginning of this new order.