After the senseless shooting Wednesday morning at the Republican baseball practice, writing about electoral politics seems inappropriate. That column can wait.
I hope I speak for all readers when I say that we pray for the full and speedy recovery of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise; Matt Mika, a Tyson Foods lobbyist who was coaching the GOP team and is critically wounded; and for the other three people wounded in the incident: Zach Barth, a legislative correspondent for Rep. Roger Williams, and the brave Capitol Police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner.
Bailey and Griner, who served on Scalise’s security detail, risked their lives to save so many others. If there was any doubt why members of congressional leadership have security details, this is why. Thank God they were there. There is no practical way to provide security to all members of Congress, and even if there were, it would inhibit their ability to interact with their constituents. But it would be prudent to have law enforcement personnel present whenever large groups of lawmakers gather.
It seems so ironic that something tied to one of the few events involving lawmakers from both parties that has transcended partisanship, especially the venomous variety that has been rampant over the last two decades, was the target of an ideological zealot.
Ugly rhetoric and behavior rose sharply during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency. Tea-party rallies became increasingly boisterous and mean-spirited, far exceeding the partisan rancor during the 16 years of the presidencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Over the last two years, we saw even more egregious behavior at many Donald Trump rallies and anti-Hillary Clinton chants of “Lock Her Up” at last summer’s GOP Convention, led by Michael Flynn (who may well end up locked up himself).
The cumulative effect of the last eight-and-a-half years was to give Democrats and liberals a platform to blame Republicans and conservatives for coarsening our national dialogue. That makes it particularly ironic now that a Democrat—a Bernie Sanders campaign Iowa volunteer—attempted to kill Republican members of Congress for being Republican members of Congress.
It is doubly ironic that they were engaged in our national pastime, preparing for a charity event. I have no doubt that Sen. Sanders and his supporters are mortified at what happened; agree or disagree with views of Sanders, he certainly is a decent man. The political acrimony had reached such a fevered pitch that the incident seemed inevitable. The only question was which side’s lunatic would take the horrific step.
About four hours after the shooting, like thousands of others, I was watching Twitter for any new developments in the case when I saw a tweet from someone suggesting Sanders might be to blame for the shooting. Republican pollster Glen Bolger instantly responded, “Before anyone is tempted, this is NOT @SenSanders fault. There are crazy violent people on both ends of the spectrum.” Bolger followed this up by writing, “Senator Sanders has not, to my knowledge, advocated violence. This is NOT him.” I have known Glen for at least 25 years. Glen has helped to elect scores of GOP candidates; there are few more loyal Republicans. But I thought his effort to defend Sanders, a former presidential candidate from the other party, captured the prevalent feeling of the day—that there is no room in American politics for the actions of James Hodgkinson, the shooter, or for the irresponsible and ill-considered rhetoric of zealots.
Experience suggests that it is naïve to assume this tragic event will cause fanatics at both ends of the ideological spectrum to dial back their words and, more importantly, their behavior. The best we can hope for is that those with moral compasses will call people out when they hear inflammatory talk to tamp it down before it leads to violence.
The risk is that any good coming from this senseless act will be short-lived, similar to the transient effect of members from both the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, singing “God Bless America” on the Capitol steps hours after the terror attacks of 9/11. But I will keep hoping that the horrible shooting in Virginia will ease the hyper-partisanship that has poisoned our politics.
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