Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Grief and Shame

When I was a kid and learned about the political assassinations in the ’60s, I was shocked. I asked my dad, “How could this happen?” He said, “It was a different time.” I interpreted that to mean everyone was crazy back then. However terrible American politics were, at least we weren’t assassinating politicians anymore. I was slightly proud of that.

Today I added that pride to the pile of other childish things I’ve had to let go of. Today our broken, ineffective, poisonous, acrimonious political system became a broken, ineffective, poisonous, acrimonious, murderous political system when Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head during a meeting with the public. Twelve people were wounded or killed, including an Arizona federal court judge, John Roll, and a nine year-old girl.

The suspected shooter is named Jared Lee Loughner and all we know about him so far is that he may have posted some weird You Tube videos. But we do know a few things for certain:

  • We know that the murder weapon was a 9mm Glock 19 handgun with a 30-round magazine.
  • We know that, even if Giffords survives the attack, her political career is over.
  • We know that, as of this writing, six people were murdered today.
  • We know that Giffords’ name appeared on an image distributed by Sarah Palin, along with a gunsight’s crosshairs over Arizona and the text “It’s time to take a stand.”

Those are the things we know. Here are some things I’d be willing to bet will happen in the next few days and weeks:

  1. Arizona politicians and political pundits will find a way to blame this on immigration and violence from Mexico, even though the suspect is a twenty-something white kid.
  2. The NRA and pro-gun advocates will find a way to imply that all of this could have been avoided if we’d just had less gun regulation, even though it was an atrocity committed with one of their weapons.
  3. Sarah Palin and her supporters will find a way to blame this on Obama instead of taking responsibility for their “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric.
  4. What happened today won’t change a damn thing, even though it should. In two weeks, it will be completely gone from the mainstream media discourse.

But today is a bad day for all of that. Today is a bad day for political arguments that just go in circles forever. Today should just be a day for grief and shame.

I am ashamed. I’m ashamed it came to this. I’m ashamed to be an American today. I’m ashamed that we all spent so much time pointing and laughing as Palin and her ilk spread like cancer in the body politic. I’m ashamed that it takes something this awful to wake us up, if we wake up at all.

And I grieve for what we’ve lost as a country. I grieve because our elected government worked so hard to give us a landmark healthcare program, and we’re all too selfish and stupid to accept it. Instead of working together to continue to improve the lives of the American people, newly-elected Republicans have made it their mandate to undo the last two years of progress. And now their hateful “take back our country” rhetoric has resulted in a politician getting shot in the head.

Someday, when your kid asks you why they can’t get healthcare when they’re sick, why no one did anything when Palin and her pals dismantled America, and how it could have gotten so bad so fast, I hope you can come up with a better answer than “It was a different time.”

Because I can’t.


Here’s Giffords talking about being a target on Palin’s crosshairs ad back in March: “When people do that, they’ve gotta realize that there’s consequences.”

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.