Saturday, January 15, 2011

Race for the White House 2012

Events in politics that will affect the 2012 Presidential contest have certainly been occurring in the new year. William Daley is set to become the new White House Chief of Staff. Reince Priebus was elected Chairman of the Republican National Committee. Republican businessman and radio talk show host Herman Cain became the first to establish a Presidential exploratory committee. Celebrity businessman Donald Trump continues to make noise about his own GOP White House bid. Tim Pawlenty is now out of office in Minnesota, but has been active nationally building his profile. Another all but certain Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has now hired several key staffers and has spent this past week meeting with dignitaries overseas in Afghanistan, Israel, and elsewhere.

Still though, the race for the White House is really not underway in any substantive way yet. Perhaps one week, we will be able to say, "this is where it really began", but this past week, America has been caught up in the aftermath of last Saturday's shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. The Arizona Democrat, who was literally declared dead on national tv a week ago, continues to recover in an inspirational manner. Her young intern, Daniel Hernandez is being applauded for bravery and heroism in coming to the aid of his wounded boss. The nation mourns the six people who were killed in the attack, especially 9 year old Christina Taylor Green, who had recently tasted political success by being elected to the Student Council. We will sadly never know how far she could have gone in that field, but the child who was born on 9/11/01, will perhaps be an inspiration to others in politics for many years.

In times of tragedy, America often pulls together, and gives us reason to be proud. We have seen much of that thankfully in the past week, but have also seen some actions and rhetoric that have not been very proud moments for America. Almost immediately after reports of bullets were heard, ideologues took to the internet and to social media to attempt to assign blame. A gunman in Tucson? Must be an illegal Mexican declared some voices on the right. A Democrat Congresswoman targeted? The Tea Party obviously was behind this, at least in some way, declared even larger groups of people on the left, and in the mainstream media as well.

By nightfall last Saturday, we learned that the gunman, 22 year old Jared Loughner, was likely a deranged individual acting alone, not out of any traditional ideological motive, but out of his own personal demons and obsessions. We have continued to learn more about Loughner every day and information will continue to come, perhaps as to the extent he might have had a stalkerish infatuation with the attractive young female politician he attempted to murder. None of this stopped Pima County's Democrat Sheriff Clarence Dupnik though from taking a microphone on Saturday night, and on cable television several other days later this past week, and assigning a degree of blame on conservative media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Arizona's state laws on guns and immigration, and political opposition to President Obama itself. Dupnik quickly established himself as a hero to many on the left, and perhaps that was his intention to capitalize on his moment in the international spotlight, but in my view, he has acted most shamelessly and recklessly in his behavior, not to mention, in a way that is potentially detrimental to the case federal and state authorities will be bringing against Loughner. The bigger tragedy occurred when innocent people were killed or wounded outside a Safeway. Another tragedy though is in how quick people were to point fingers at their fellow Americans.

The person who perhaps had the most fingers pointed at them was Sarah Palin. The potential Republican candidate had targeted Giffords for defeat in 2010, using a "crosshairs" image on a map of the United States to include her district. While perhaps not very politically smart, those sort of images and rhetoric are nothing new in American politics, and happen on both sides of the aisle. Even if evidence suggested that the gunman was a fan of Palin, who acted based on anything he thought she had suggested, the former Alaska Governor would not have deserved any blame for the criminal actions of an unstable individual. There has been absolutely no evidence though to indicate that Loughner was influenced by her, by talk radio, or anything else that could be considered a prominent "right-wing" issue. The media though insisted on talking much about Palin and any role she might have played in this event or other non existent hypothetical acts of violence. For the first few days, Palin remained silent, but on Thursday, released a video on Facebook, in which she defended herself, while using the historically charged term "blood libel" to describe the lies that had been tossed at her. Her allies applauded her statement, and I believe she is in the right to defend herself, but among most Americans, the fact is that there is basically nothing that Sarah Palin can do politically, that she will not be attacked for, and would not suffer politically in the process.

The night after Palin's statement, Barack Obama traveled to Tuscon to speak at a memorial service for the victims. All day, the media speculated if the President could "rise to the occasion" and demonstrate his once valuable soaring rhetorical skills. Comparisons were made to how President Bill Clinton was able to rebound politically in 1995 after the Oklahoma City bombing.

If I am being honest, I have to say, that while there were aspects of the service that were a bit off putting, and more in tune with a political rally, the President gave a very good speech and did himself and his office proud. As someone who disagrees with just about everything he has done in office, I found his performance by far the most Presidential he has ever been, and maybe as human as he has been as well. It was easily his finest speech, since his national debut at the 2004 Democrat Convention.

President Obama honored the dead and the recovering,and called upon the country to not assign blame for what occurred, but to use the incident to bring about more civility in public discourse. For the most part, that seems like a good idea, and something he and his Administration could definitely stand to improve on as well. The weeks ahead will see whether he and his allies heeded his words.

On Thursday night however, Barack Obama was not just the left-wing Democrat in the White House, but the President of the whole country, who as other Presidents before him had, was able to bring about a sense of national unity. Politically speaking, he likely improved his standing. As the nation moves on and Congress gets back to work though, we will of course continue to have our political disagreements, the hallmark of our vivid democracy. Any bump Obama has received may prove to be short lived as long as the economy continues to lag. But this week went far in demonstrating the power and potential the American Presidency contains and just why the election of 2012 will be so important.