Sunday, January 9, 2011

Members of Congress in the Bullseye

The assassination attempt of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) outside of a Safeway grocery store at a district event is a stark reminder that members of Congress, all of whom are public servants, put their lives in jeopardy by being very public figures and dealing with heated, controversial issues that inflame the passions of the citizenry. The shooting incident left six people dead, including a 9 year old girl, a staffer, and a Federal judge, and the Congresswoman fighting for life with a gunshot wound to the head.

The last several years have seen an uptick in heated political rhetoric and a citizenry inflamed by talk radio crazies and politicians and candidates willing to do and say anything to win. When you have a candidate for the U.S. Senate talking openly of "Second Amendment remedies" you know there's a major problem with our political dialogue. Sarah Palin's map of 20 districts to target in 2008, all of which are marked with the cross hairs of a gun, included Gifford's 8th District. Giffords, herself, was concerned about the message the map would send by saying she had "never seen anything like it. The thing is, the way that she has it depicted has the crosshairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they've got to realize there's consequences to that action."

Despite the relative openness with which members of Congress, particularly House members, interact with their constituents and the general public, there have been few assassination and assassination attempts in the United States. The last time a sitting member of Congress was murdered was in 1978 when Leo Ryan, a House Democrat from California, was shot at the Guyana Airport as one of the opening salvos of the Jonestown Massacre. Before that, Senator Robert Kennedy (D-NY), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was shot after the California Democratic primary at the Ambassador Hotel. In 1935, Senator Huey Long (D-LA), the Kingfish, was shot and killed at the Louisiana State Capitol. The first successful assassination attempt of a sitting member of Congress occurred in 1868, when James Hinds (R-AR) was shot by a member of the KKK. For a list of assassinations of members of Congress, go here. For a list of assassinations of American politicians in general, go here.

Something has got to change in this country. As both House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama have said, we can disagree without being disagreeable. It's not that hard to do.

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