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PORTSIDE  January 2011, Week 2

PORTSIDE January 2011, Week 2

Subject:

We Do Need Civility...and We Also Need Politics

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Date:

Thu, 13 Jan 2011 22:27:49 -0500

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We Do Need Civility...and We Also Need Politics

A Memorial in Arizona

by Amy Davidson
Close Read

New Yorker Blogs

January 13, 2011

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2011/01/a-memorial-in-arizona.html

One of the best things about the memorial service, at the
University of Arizona, for the victims of the Tucson
shooting, was an aspect that also threw some people: the
cheering. There was a lot of it. But it was hard, most of
the time, to tell just who the shouting was for: Daniel
Hernandez, the intern who helped keep Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords alive, got the greatest applause when he
deflected the praise to other people. During Obama's speech,
it may have been when he said that today, for the first time
since a bullet passed through her brain, "Gabby opened her
eyes." The eyes of the crowd were not all on him, or even on
the astronaut in the front row, Mark Kelly, Giffords's
husband, or Michelle Obama and Janet Napolitano, next to
him; time and again, people were looking at each other, as
when "petite Patricia Maisch," as Obama called her, stood
and was surrounded by taller, hugging people. (Maisch is the
sixty-one-year-old who pulled the spare magazine out of
Jared Loughner's pocket before he could reload his gun.)
They weren't happy, exactly, but they were loving, and glad
of that. The evening made it clear, first, that those who
died had not lived in isolation, and that the rescue of
those who didn't die was a group effort. That is worth
applauding.

Obama spoke about all the victims, but especially about
Christina Taylor Green, the child who was killed. At times
it seemed hard for him to do so calmly. (Christina was just
three months younger than Sasha Obama.) In Obama's speech,
Christina became a sort of better angel:

    Imagine for a moment: here was a young girl who was just
    becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to
    understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting
    to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a
    part in shaping her nation's future. She had been
    elected to her student council; she saw public service
    as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to
    meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good
    and important and might be a role model. She saw all
    this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the
    cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just
    take for granted.

    I want to live up to her expectations. I want our
    democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.

It is that good. In the prepared remarks, the line was "I
want us to live up to her expectations" - the omission of
"us" made for a rare moment when talking only about oneself
struck a note of humility. Afterward, a commentator on CNN
said that Obama, in his appeal for civility, wanted us all
to think of Christina's "innocence." She was innocent, of
course, in the sense of being free from blame or badness,
but Obama also marked, and was awed by, the way she was
becoming what might, in the best sense of the word, be
called worldly: "starting to glimpse the fact that someday
she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future."
She had opened her eyes. Keeping them undimmed by "cynicism
or vitriol" is not the same as never gazing critically at
the world, engaging with it politically, or thinking
ambitiously about how one might change it. (This was a girl
who wanted to be the first woman in Major League Baseball.)
Those are all things one wishes Christina could do.

We do need civility, and one hopes we get more of that, and
less scorn. We also need politics. And true civility can be
disruptive - it is not civil, for example, to abandon the
unpopular or unfairly treated. There are times when smiling
blandly is far more cynical than raising one's voice would
be - when politeness is uncivil - just as there are times
when cheering at a memorial is a profound act of mourning.

There was more to the evening, of course - the Native
American blessing, the Sandra Day O'Connor sighting, the
stories of all the victims (Phyllis Schneck would "sew
aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out
at the church where she volunteered"), a W.S. Merwin poem, a
choir singing "Simple Gifts." Amid all that, Obama's speech
was one of his best in a long time; it wasn't so much a
rallying cry as a call to sustain an embrace.

[Amy Davidson is a senior editor at The New Yorker.]

=====

Together We Thrive: Tucson and America

President Barack Obama at the Memorial
University of Arizona, January 12, 2011

http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2011/01/12/president-obama-memorial-arizona

==========

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