Moment of civility may result from tragedy

Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl killed in Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, drew special mention from President Barack Obama during Wednesday’s memorial service for the shooting victims.

The girl was born on Sept. 11, 2001, the president noted. She attended Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ constituent meeting Saturday because she was just beginning to be aware of our political system and civic responsibilities. And she was excited about both.

“I want us to live up to her expectations,” Obama said. “I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined.”

It was a touching moment in a speech that the president used to plead for national healing and a respite from the extreme partisanship and polarization of the country.

Obama’s words were part of a well-crafted and apparently heartfelt speech that drew praise even from many conservative commentators. And deservedly so.

But the larger question is whether the civility that Obama seeks, and has clearly been present in Congress this week — if not among national commentators — will continue.

Will the deaths of Green and five others, and the injuries suffered by Giffords and a dozen more people, result in any meaningful change that lasts beyond memorial services and 24/7 news coverage?

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, who is a personal friend of Giffords, hopes it will last at least through the president’s State of the Union address Jan. 25. He sent a letter to his colleagues of both parties, asking them to forego traditional party seating during the president’s speech and sit with Democrats and Republicans intermingled.

Doing so could help reverse the picture that Americans see of Congress bitterly divided along party lines, Udall said.

It is a gesture of decency. And it would certainly be welcome if others in Congress would accept Udall’s invitation.

But far more important is whether Democrats, Republicans and independents can tackle difficult policy issues without the debates devolving into personal attacks and overheated rhetoric about who is good and who is evil.

Can we disagree without demonizing?

That doesn’t require abandoning spirited debate or acquiescing to the opposition in all matters.

Our party system developed because, since the earliest days of the republic, we have disagreed over the size and role of government and many related policy issues. Representatives for different viewpoints have an obligation to continue to speak out for these positions. However, that doesn’t mean they have to verbally tar and feather their opponents at every opportunity.

It’s hard to imagine anything better to serve the ongoing work of Gabrielle Giffords and the memory of Christina Taylor Green than a less rancorous national discourse.


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