What a Difference a Week Makes

By Richard Thayer

In a Tucson, Arizona hospital Congresswoman Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords stirs, opens her eyes, and it’s called a miracle.

And rightfully so. It is a miracle.

Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away in Washington, DC our nation’s lawmakers stir, their eyes now opened by the tragic events in Tucson. Their tone is now different. They’re actually saying nice things about one another. They’re calling one another “brothers” and “sisters,” they’re “family.”

Some would say that this, too, is a miracle.

What a difference a week makes.

A week ago there was the same old partisan bickering and back-stabbing on Capitol Hill. It was business as usual even though a new batch of lawmakers had just ridden into town promising change.

Rather than begin by addressing the country’s number one problem, the economy, this new group of lawmakers had decided to take a few steps back and spend their time trying to repeal the health care law. A week ago that was priority number one.

A week ago both sides were gearing up for a knock-down-drag-out fight over Obama Care. It was lock-and-load time at the DC Corral.

But then the unexpected happened. Saturday, a week ago (although it seems longer now), an interloper strode onto the scene: a man in black (so to speak), the gunslinger, fate, stepped out of the shadows and gunned down 26 innocent people, killing six.

Suddenly an ordinary day in the life of America, turned extraordinary on so many different levels.

One of the most extraordinary stories to come out of this senseless tragedy, of course, is that of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who should probably be dead now or, at least, in some kind of vegetative state. She definitely shouldn’t be opening her eyes, recognizing loved ones, breathing on her own.

Extraordinary.

At the same time, another extraordinary event seems to be unfolding on Capitol Hill.

This past Wednesday there was supposed to be a showdown in Congress, a showdown to repeal that “job-killing” health care bill, pitting (for the most part), conservatives against liberals, Democrats against Republicans.

But the showdown never happened. The showdown Wednesday was called on account of pain.

Instead of arguing and name-calling, the newly “chastened” lawmakers (as one writer put it), came together in unity.

Instead of calling one another “liars,” “baby killers,” and the other names they’ve flung at one another for the past two years, they said things like this:

“(The shooting in Tucson) was a reminder to me of…just how important it really is for each of us to seize every moment and to speak kind and loving words to each other while we still can.” This from Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, who once called President Obama “an enemy of humanity.”

There has been word that the seating arrangement at this year’s State of the Union address will be different from past years. If they follow through on this, this year instead of Republicans sitting on one side of the chamber and Democrats on the other, they’ll be sitting together, side by side.

Chances are this year you won’t hear someone shout out, “You lie!” in response to the president’s remarks. Chances are you won’t see a Supreme Court justice defiantly mouth the words, “Not true.”

As of this past week, it looks as if everyone will be on their best behavior this year.

Here in the Triad of North Carolina where this post originates, an article in the High Point Enterprise had for one of its front page headlines on Thursday, “Civil Discourse: Congressmen Coble, Watt will appear at forum to promote dialogue.”

The article goes on to say that this annual service in Greensboro honors the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., but this year it will “take a new turn because of the tragedy this past weekend…”

I’m hopeful that there will be similar meetings like this one in the days ahead. We need them.

If we’re to have genuine healing in our country, we need these kinds of discussions.

As political activists, we should encourage these kinds of meetings, and the kinds of discussions that are now taking place in Washington, and throughout the country. Our representatives in Washington need to understand that not only are they there to make the nation’s laws, but they’re also there to help set the standard for the rest of us.

Will this new tone last in Washington?

Only time will tell.

But miracles do happen.

Just ask the family of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.


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