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Recently, I was fortunate to be a guest at a luncheon sponsored by the La Grange Rotary and Oldham County Chamber of Commerce that featured U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell as the guest speaker.
The security was a bit more than what I had experienced over previous years having broke bread with Indiana senators, representatives and while traveling with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on his tour bus during his election. Due to the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona just days earlier, men in dark suits and wearing ear pieces flanked McConnell – gravely different than the normal posse of a senator’s press agent and a few interns.
After the crowd finished chewing salad, sipping tea and cutting pork loin, McConnell took the podium to begin his presentation. The most immediate topic was the shooting of Rep. Giffords, which had likely been discussed at every flower-decorated table at the luncheon previous to him taking the stand.
Not dodging the obvious, McConnell launched head on into the shooting of Rep. Giffords and the controversy that followed the tragic event. It was a good launch point for the senator and his authority as a seasoned public speaker dominated the small podium in the rural county of Oldham.
McConnell used the facts of the shooting to outline the truth that the shooter was a deranged person of which predictions of his behavior cannot be traced, or unfortunately stopped, when he became set on his mission. He was very forceful in his point that attaching blame to persons other than the shooter is not prudent and in some instances, as many pundits have done, sickening by exploiting the incident to gain political leverage over adversaries of different political affiliation.
I recognized McConnell’s name and face instantly as I arrived in Kentucky weeks ago, as he is one of the most respected U.S. senators and his face has appeared almost as much in Indiana as Kentucky television. I respect his position, as I do all politicians regardless of party or platform. However, I also disagree with McConnell, as I do the majority of our federal elected officials.
As McConnell continued to discuss the reasons why political rhetoric should not be considered a point of blame for the shooting in Tucson he alluded to the fact that heated and at times lewd debate occurred between the most prominent of men and politicians – including the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. McConnell’s historical reference drew laughter from the crowd and he seemed satisfied that this childlike comparison was enough to prove that bad rhetoric is fine, especially when reserved for politicians, and that nothing should be expected to change simply because a deranged shooter shot a political leader.
First of all to allude to debates between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as precedent to allow for heated and lewd behavior among politicians today is as a slippery slope as a Kentucky back road with two inches of ice. I must remind McConnell that Thomas Jefferson also held in his cabinet a vice president that shot Alexander Hamilton in a duel (thus another reason for the swearing in duel language still in effect today).
Thomas Jefferson also owned over 600 slaves and a gene pool line has been traced that shows him as fathering children by his slaves. Is this too appropriate behavior? Of course not.
I could continue on with archaic descriptions of Thomas Jefferson as they relate to our current society but I, unlike McConnell, believe that people are intelligent and can see my point without creating a verbal magician’s trick.
Regarding McConnell’s words that the Tuscon shooting should not be used to exploit any politician (although in the case of Sarah Palin some do it to themselves- blood letting, crosshairs- seriously?) I wholeheartedly agree.
However the second part of his argument that this tragedy should not be used as a catalyst to spark change in the way our politicians conduct their disrespectful and at times immature childlike outbursts of discourse (the most embarrassing of these is the refusal to stand or clap during State of the Union Addresses – shame on both parties) – I totally disagree.
If any good is to come from the Tucson tragedy it should be the review of political conduct especially when it comes to disparaging words and false rhetoric used to incite public reaction. There has been a long-standing belief among politicians, especially those in federal office that they are above the polite and mature process of debate and spoken accountability.
It seems they believe that because of their office they can say and do whatever they want to whomever they want and there are no rules.
Like the new rules that monitor Wall Street a change regarding political rhetoric is needed.
Perhaps in the reflection of the Tucson shooting politicians may be able to see that though they are larger than life in the world of media, life and the words used to convey it should be used carefully, modestly, honestly, and respectfully. Not because someone chose to shoot a U.S. Representative, but as Rep. Giffords brother-in-law Scott Kelly said because, “We’re better than this.” And, “We must do better.”
We, the citizenry, know the truth of Scott Kelly’s words and are fed up with the Hill’s “business as usual” approach and it’s up to us demand not the same, but better of our elected officials.
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