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Capitol Shooting

My aunt worked on Capitol Hill for the better part of 20 years (actually, it was probably more). She started in the state office of Kansas Senator Pearson and then moved to his DC office when she married my uncle and moved to the District. From there, she worked for Senator Kassabaum for most of her career, either in the Russell Building or on the committee that Senator Kassabaum chaired. There was a small break here and there, but for the most part, my aunt spent her professional life with politicians and the people around them.

I thought to have an aunt that worked in a U.S. Senator’s office was WAY cool and that did not change as I got older. Through the years, I spent a lot of spring breaks in Washington DC (or at least it feels like I did) and the summer before my senior year of college, I spent six weeks interning on Capitol Hill with thousands of other college students.

Sondra taught me a lot about “the ways of Washington” and I can say that I listened more than she probably realized. But there is one thing that has always stood out. Sondra used to say that by far, most of the elected officials (Senators and Representatives alike) were deeply committed to the people they represented and that they were public servants. That they ran for election and came to DC, not for publicity, fame and certainly not money but to give back to their community and to their country. That the people around them – not all, but most – were there to give back and to serve.

Now certainly, those in leadership play a role and there is a consequence for the role that they play. That has always been the case. When you go from an individual member to leadership, unfortunately, one does seem to “lose” a bit of their innocence. But they do not speak for everyone.

I happened to be talking to my aunt when Devin Nunes’ midnight ride to the White House became public. I think we both agreed that those actions would never have happened back in Senator Kassebaum’s day; not because they would not have dared but because reps would not have even THOUGHT to do it. Watergate and Vietnam were still fresh in the minds of too many public servants’ minds. Oh – and Citizens United had not been decided.

Today is different. It is so different that a guy from Illinois got in a car back in March and drove to Washington D.C. with his automatic assault weapon, hung around town for a few months and then this morning, decided to open fire on a group of Republican Congressmen and Senators practicing ahead of a charity baseball game.

While the motive is still unclear, it “appears” the shooter was a progressive Bernie Sanders supporter unhappy with Trump’s election. Given that he asked a witness whether the team practicing were Republicans or Democrats, I would agree it was a targeted attack.

Already the country is discussing the lessons we should learn from this morning’s shooting. Yes, gun laws are too lax but we know by now that nothing will change there. If anything, this administration will bend to the NRA and water down existing gun restrictions even more. Furthermore, this country is violent. We have been since the beginning. Just think of how this country came to be. My ancestors survived because their weapons were more powerful than the people who lived on the land before them. If they were not, I would not be here.

Violence against politicians is also not new. Just look at the presidential assassinations in our history. Even in the Senate, we’ve had bloodshed. During the build up to the Civil War, Senator Sumner of Massachusetts was beaten by Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina by a walking stick because of the Senator’s virulent oratory against the slave power. I mean – A WALKING STICK. IN THE WELL OF THE SENATE.

Social media outlets allow the spread of virulent hate. Well yes – that’s also in the First Amendment. Facebook and other outlets have put a lot of money into trying to root out speech that could lead to terrorist and other violent behavior, but this is a gray area and one that is protected by the Constitution. So it is not something that is going to get fixed overnight.

Partisan politics. Ahhh – now here is something we could address right? All day long we have seen Senators and Representatives talking about how they “really get along with each other” and that “the public just does not see that.” Well, I wonder why that is? Every day, our leaders speak so disparagingly of each other and while most do not encourage violence, others do. Today, the President’s son made a statement blaming the morning’s events on the radical left wing media. Guess how long it took for even moderates to suggest that perhaps his father should be the first to get in line of those encouraging violence?

A representative (Republican) from New York said something similar to a local news outlet indicating that he “hoped that the left would calm things down now. That the hate filled speech that had surged since Trump had been elected had left Republicans scared that their lives were in danger.”

That, of course, sparked a conversation about death threats that Representative Al Green had received after a floor speech about Trump (the death threats had the word “lynched” in it) and the ongoing death threats that Nancy Pelosi receives.

I would love to get back to a time that I recognize; a time that my aunt recognizes; a time when bills were actually compromising pieces of legislation. And perhaps most importantly, the bills were marketed as compromises. Today though, compromise is vilified. When the continuing budget resolution was passed several weeks ago – you know – the one needed to FUND THE FREAKING GOVERNMENT – the conservative media outlets were all over Republicans because they compromised. Democrats “got too much.” What? Democrats got too much? How about the government was funded to support, you know, America?

On the left, I am already hearing how establishment Democrats are concerned about being “primaried” in the Tea Party style if they compromise or work with Republicans (I think working with Trump at this point is completely off the table). Of course, given that the GOP has not asked for much help or shown much interest in compromise so far, we have not yet tested that threat. But I believe it is there. Whether it leads to extremism is to be determined.

We do not know much about this morning’s shooter and I am sure that he will be vilified. But tonight I wondered a little about his situation. What was it that set him off today? He had been in D.C. since March. Did he learn that the Senate was writing a health care bill in secret that would very likely phase out funding for his Medicaid coverage? Was he just fed up with hearing about the mass deportations of immigrants from this country? Those that are being arrested after they drop their kids off at school and then being deported without due process? Or did he lose his job during the Great Recession and was just livid at the thought that Dodd-Frank was being repealed which in his mind would allow Wall Street would run wild over Main Street again?

I am not joking here. Mass murder is illegal and a hell of a way to make a point. But “we” have allowed a small group, a few words (2nd amendment) and a hell of a lot of money, restrict what we can do with guns. And then we have allowed the media, super PACs and our elected officials gerry-mander our districts into polarized, safe electoral bases which has helped create the polarization we have today. But even this – this is not to blame completely. We allowed a political party to obstruct the first African American president to the extent that it supported “Birtherism” by not denouncing it. AND, it allowed it’s Majority Leader to steal a Supreme Court seat. And today, it is rewriting a health care reform bill in secret. All this happened after we went to war in a country for reasons that turned out to be a lie. Oh. And we put the costs on a credit card, did not regulate Wall Street, hoped for the best and bailed out the banks when it did not work so well.

So. Forget left & right. Put all this in a bottle and at the top, place a man who is visibly contemptible and could care less about serving the public good. How is anyone surprised that people are pissed? You know how this gets better? Let’s follow up all the speeches today with actual bipartisanship in Congress. I love all of these interviews. Everyone sitting together, talking about how much they love the other side. So how about they hold a hearing about the Republican health-care bill that currently has about 20% approval? How about Mitch McConnell walking over to Chuck Schumer and saying, “Hey – let’s do this right. Apparently, America likes this Obamacare thing now. Let’s make it work. I’ll give you something, you give me something. I’ll end up a little unhappy, you end up a little unhappy and America wins.”

How about when Senator Cotton refers to his “Democratic Friends” in a hearing that what follows are sarcastic comments that are actually factual? And yes folks, Democrats are also part of the problem. But while Republicans see “resist,” Democrats see survival. Dems see a conservative agenda aimed at ripping out the entire social fabric and welfare system that took 70 + years to build. It’s as visceral to us as conservatism is to you. We built it together (contrary to what you’ve been told), and now we feel it is being ripped apart in front of us.

It never used to work this way. The summer I interned on the Hill was the summer that Hillary’s health care effort died. That was a pretty significant hit to the Democratic ego and the majority took a hit. But you know what? Senators Kennedy and Kassabaum somehow made their committee work regardless of who was Chair and Ranking. And I will guarantee you – neither one EVER said an ill word about the other. I cannot speak to death threats, but I would hazard to guess that there were far fewer back then.

The government was not about ripping up or tearing down. It was not about exclusion but compromise. The best day that summer was the day of the Pizza Hut hearings. Pizza Hut is based in Wichita, Kansas – or at least it was. In 1994, Democrats were control of the Senate and so Kennedy was Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee (Labor was in there too) Kassabaum was Ranking Member. Ted Kennedy went on a rant one day about employee sponsored healthcare and how some companies refused to offer it to their employees. He decided to throw out Pizza Hut as a bad actor in the then health care debate and called Pizza Hut executives to Congress to testify.

Honestly, I do not remember the ins & outs of the hearing. It was all for show and it was done to make a point for the cameras. But Kennedy was playing the long game in his quest for universal health care and Kassabaum knew that. She could have chastised the gentleman from Boston, but to do that might burn a small bridge that she might need later. So she let him have his moment. She questioned the Pizza Hut executives as did her fellow Republicans. Kennedy did his fire & brimstone type questioning tactics (which was a lot of fun to witness). Health care reform did not get done that year but that committee did move other legislation that helped real people in the workplace. Kennedy & Kassabaum continued to work together regardless of who was in the majority for several years, I believe until she retired. It just seems that things worked back then and no one got shot.

It would take guts for our leaders to make these changes because they would have to push back on the forces controlling their war chests and purse strings. It might mean they do not get re-elected. But there was a time when that did not matter either. I for one always try to stick to facts although I’ve been known a time or two to let the emotions run amok. Today’s shooting was the first but likely will not be the last. But when the next one happens, I hope that we are not all watching interviews of leaders talking about how we should be nicer to each other and how we should “dial down the rhetoric.” Because I think we’ve been warned.

Amy, from the Facebook Archive

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