Home > law & justice > Thoughts after an Assassination Attempt*

Thoughts after an Assassination Attempt*

Saturday, January 8, 2011, 23:57 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

(*This post title is not intended to ignore or minimize the death of a federal judge in today’s shooting; it simply reflects the current belief that the judge doesn’t appear to have been the target of the attack. —DM)

I didn’t feel I could ask God’s help to heal [White House Press Secretary] Jim [Brady], the others, and myself, and at the same time feel hatred for the man who had shot us, so I silently asked God to help him deal with whatever demons had led him to shoot us.
President Ronald Reagan

Earlier today in Arizona, a member of Congress was wounded in an attack which killed six people, including a U.S. District Court judge, and injured a dozen others. Chief Judge John Roll of the U.S. District Court for Arizona is among the dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) is hospitalized in critical condition after a shooting rampage outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was holding an event called “Congress on Your Corner.” I haven’t yet found any reports explaining why Judge Roll was present at the event.

Under arrest is 22-year-old Jared Loughner, whose various online profiles and rantings suggest the kind of demons President Reagan mentioned. Or maybe Loughner is just evil. In either case, it seems that his actions were motivated by ideology, however incoherent.

There are homicides and attempted homicides all over America every day. What is it about political assassination that is so much more disconcerting? It isn’t just that these people are well-known; celebrity deaths, even when violent, get lots of media attention but don’t shake most of us the way assassinations do. It isn’t just that they are public servants; murders of police officers, while always a devastating blow to the communities the officers serve and symbolically an attack on the entire citizenry, don’t threaten the rest of us personally. Perhaps it is that politicians and judges are civilians doing jobs not generally considered dangerous.

More than that, though, is the fact that we have established orderly means of dealing with politicians we don’t like. Our constitution—the second oldest form of national government still in use in the world—provides for orderly transfers of power at regular intervals, peaceful transitions in case of deaths, and an impeachment procedure for use in unusual circumstances. Sure, large numbers of people are unhappy with the results of any given election, but we accept the results as legitimate nonetheless. Never in our history has there been a coup d’etat. So when someone decides to take matters into his or her own hands and disregards our long-established and much-cherished processes in favor of something more nefarious, it is nothing less than an attack on our country. When we see, as we do today, bipartisan condemnation of political violence, it isn’t an act. The morally bankrupt opportunists who might try to make political hay from this tragedy are an extreme minority. Hell, most of us won’t even joke about assassination, even of politicians we can’t stand (the unhinged purveyors and supporters of George W. Bush assassination chic being the notable exception).

The good news is that doctors give Rep. Giffords a good chance of recovering from her wounds. The bad news is that Judge Roll has no such chance, nor do the others who died today, a Giffords aide and a child among them. The rest of us can honor the victims by recommitting ourselves to defending our constitution and the democratic/republican form of self-governance it guarantees.

Categories: law & justice

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