Did you catch the State of the Union address Tuesday night? If you missed it, President Barack Obama highlighted the economy, potential for job creation, and made a mad dash for the center that would have made Bill Clinton blush in 1994. Yep, it was pretty much business as usual for a president facing a divided Congress. There was, however, one glaring difference
In light of Jared Lee Loughner's attacks in a Tucson, Ariz. shopping center that killed six people and injured 14 others, including Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, with a 9mm pistol, it was decided that members of Congress would exercise a mixed seating arrangement in order to "show unity." That's right, instead of being divided along party lines (as is tradition), they utilized mixed seating in what was one of the biggest political farces broadcasted on national television since George W. Bush played dress up on the deck of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln in 2003 and declared, "Mission accomplished!"
Now, you could make the argument that Congress getting together and singing "Kumbaya" and the "I Love You" song from Barney again and again until Obama walked in and spoke about bipartisanship is a powerful showing of American resilience and/or comradery by those who occupy the seats of power in the U.S. The truth, however, is that this is only a sham cooked up by two parties that are looking to utilize the attack on Congresswoman Giffords to their political advantage in a manner similar to what I shared in my first column this semester.
"But, Derek," I hear some of you moaning. "They put aside their differences to issue a message of brotherhood to the country!" No, I'm sorry, they did not.
In order to placate those who argue that it was partisan politics that set the wheels into motion in Loughner's head, someone made the decision to give elected officials assigned seating to a constitutionally-required status report like they were kindergarten students. The reality of the situation is that this symbolic demonstration means nothing and neither this would-be display of unity nor emotions over Giffords' struggle to recover from her wounds will change anything.
Will this little hand-holding session bring both sides together to settle their disputes over heath care reform and halt John Boehner and his Republican cohorts from trying to repeal it? No. Does public interest in Loughner's motivations and the role partisan bickering played mean that the upcoming election season will be anything less than a full-on mudslinging exercise that will make the last three or four look like tea parties? I really do not think so.
Look, maybe I am just another cynic with a column, but the fact of the matter is that travesties like what happened in Tucson have happened again and again throughout the annals of history, including in American history, and things have never really changed. Of course there are exceptions, such as in times of war and, most recently, in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the evidence points to the idea that this shooting, Giffords' struggle, and this demonstration will be, at best, a blip on the pages of history.
As I said in my previous diatribe on the subject of the Tucson shooting, the worst thing politicians can do is try to manipulate this tragedy to their gain. It is simply shameful for anyone on either side of the American political spectrum to try to utilize the anguish felt by the families and loved ones affected by Loughner's senseless acts to further political interests or ideological aims, especially while claiming to champion the cause of bipartisan unity in the capital. The memorial for those who died and the speech given by Obama at the event was enough. Do not operate under the guise of trying to herald bipartisanship when you really are trying to advance an agenda.
If you are someone who really needs to find a sense of triumph in the wake of this tragedy, I suggest you find the video of soon to be ex-Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responding to a question from a Russian journalist who inquired whether or not Americans realized that our free speech and firearm ownership civil liberties played a role in this attack. Gibbs did exactly what I suggest: he responded to the question in a concise and effective manner and moved on. He did not try to use it to promote an agenda or downgrade anyone. He simply answered and moved along. If only the rest of Washington could take a hint.
—Derek Mullins is a senior in political science and history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org