The Tucson Memorial: Politics is Everywhere

by Alexander Cockburn, January 20, 2011

Courtesy Xavier Velasquez, via Flickr

Last Wednesday night’s memorial in the McHale Arena at the University of Arizona did strike me as slightly strange, like an Irish wake that had prematurely transitioned into the later boisterous phase. The offbeat tone was established from the outset by Carlos Gonzalez, an associate prof at AU who delivered us from stuffy Anglican proprieties by very properly “politicizing” the event. He identified himself as half Pascua Yaqui Indian (his reservation is in Giffords’ district), half Mexican, fifth generation from the Tucson Valley and from a heritage richly stained by massacre. Take that, governor Jan Brewer! There was no way anyone in the world audience was going to mistake this for an event taking place in the Cathedral in Washington DC.

Gonzalez flourished a talisman of eagle feathers and chanted a bracing traditional Indian blessing, walking the 13,000 crowd inside McKale Center (plus an overflow 13,000 at Arizona Stadium) around the four “doors” to wisdom, spirit, visions and energy and guidance, plus the male energy of the sky and the female energy of earth. He blessed the victims, their families, all Americans, his son in Afghanistan and all his relations, all creatures including snakes. “I ask this so that we all can once again achieve harmony and balance in our lives. Oh, Creator, welcome — we welcome those people who come to our beloved city here, our beloved city of Chukson or Tucson as it's known.”

It was a bracing one-in-the eye for the Judeo-Christian tradition, and we should applaud the master of ceremonies, AU president Robert Shelton and his campaign to bring diverse thought, culture and traditions to AU’s campuses. He surely knew what he was doing by having Gonzalez launch off the most widely viewed event in the history of Tucson. “Together we thrive” was on the funeral programs and on t-shirts handed out at the door. Later in the evening Republicans were angrily asking whether this was some low Democratic ploy. Together we thrive… outrageous!

Student body President Emily Fritze spoke well and so did Giffords' intern, Daniel Hernandez Jr., a powerful speaker who gracefully rejected the role of “hero” assigned to him. The event then nosedived into bad faith and tedium with an address by the shifty Brewer, followed by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, (who read highly inappropriate verses from Isaiah, chapter 40) and US Attorney General Eric Holder (giving us verses from the second letter to the Corinthians written by the markedly intolerant Paul.)

Obama did okay by conventional measures. How could he not? He spent the whole of 2008 campaigning on the theme of reconciliation, and rising-above-our-worser-selves. On Wednesday night you could see him gaining in confidence as he ploughed these familiar furrows. Of course, despite its pretensions to Rise Above Politics and Heal, it was a political speech, since every time he denounced the idea of suggesting that Loughner might have been directly or indirectly incited to his murders, all thoughts rushed to Palin, crosshairs, bullseyes and so forth. Why shouldn’t they? Paranoids, schizophrenics, and people soak up the social vibes and energy currents like blotting paper. I remember the week before Hinckley shot Reagan my phone at the Village Voice never stopped ringing with one person after another confiding their paranoid fears and fantasies.

If Palin was in the Animal Rights movement she would have been indicted, sentenced and imprisoned long ago. To draw a specific comparison: the SHAC 7  were convicted of “animal enterprise terrorism” for running a website which posted the names and addresses of individuals tied to the animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences. They were not charged with any act of property destruction, they were charged with “conspiracy” on the grounds that they should be held accountable for the actions of others in the same movement.

Palin of course is a vigorous opponent of abortion. An anti-abortion campaigner back in the 1990s ran a website called The Nuremberg Files. It published the names and addresses of doctors who performed abortions and others who made that possible, either by running clinics or providing protection or issuing legal opinions from the bench. When one of the doctors on the list (or clinic owners, cops providing protection, judges, etc.) was killed, a strike-through line would appear over their information. When they were wounded, their names would be grayed out. In its old form the site is now down after a court ruled following the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian that the strike-through and euphoric rhetoric accompanying each 'aborted' abortionist amounted to incitement. Check out what's on line at present, from the man who originated the site: www.christiangallery.com.

What's missing now is the detailed information about where the targets live and work. But there’s still euphoria, if you click on the link at the top to Tiller the Killer Aborted!

Loughner’s life and mind have been saturated with “politics.” Unsurprisingly. “Politics” are the air we breathe. Those who try to evict politics — “don’t bring politics into this!” — are all in the business of Cover-Up. It would have been fitting if one of those raucous students at the Tucson memorial had taken the opportunity during Obama’s final dose of rhetorical treacle about Christina Taylor Green to hold up a photo of an Afghan kid blown apart last week courtesy of one of Obama’s Predator strikes. After all, the President said apropos Christina, “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.” You’re murdering children in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama. One, two — many, many Christinas. Reform, or clamber in shame off your moral stump.

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