In 1968, a song of sorrow burst on to American radio. ”Abraham, Martin, and John” described the grief that coursed through the nation when Martin Luther King,and Robert F. Kennedy fell to assassin’s bullets within less than two months of each other. The reference to Abraham and John was of course to Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, two more victims of political murder.
We now need another song now that captures our mourning about the level to which our country has sunk. And we need more than sadness: we need to action to restore our political culture to decency and to stem the ceaseless torrent of guns.
The new song, I suggest, should be called “Myers and Giffords and Green.”
Kathy Myers is a sign of our failure to care for one another. A resident of Indiana, Myers badly injured her shoulder, had no health insurance and no money, and believed that the only way she could be treated was to take a pistol from her in-laws and fire it at point blank range into her own arm. She went to the emergency room, where they treated her bullet wound and sent her home — without additional care for the original problem. This is the American system of medical care of which so many say they are proud.
Gabrielle Giffords is now the most famous Congressperson in the United States, not because of her vibrant personality and recognized leadership but because a person who selected her as a target for his rage. We don’t yet know all his motives, an attack on a member of Congress is a statement in itself. In many ways she is like Charles Sumner, a Republican Senator from Massachusetts, who in 1856 was attacked for his anti-slavery views and beaten into a coma on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Rep Preston Brooks of South Carolina. Sumner never fully recovered from that brutality.
And finally we have Christina Green who, in a dreadful twist, came into this life on September 11, 2001, the day that launched our modern obsession with real and potential violence. She had gone to the gathering because, as a newly elected member of her student council, she wanted to know more about American politics. Imagine her delight as she approached Gabrielle Gifford, eager to meet the woman in whose path perhaps she might one day follow.
And then her life came to a horrible end.
Christina was a real person. Her parents, family, and friends will mourn her for the rest of their lives. She is also becoming a national symbol for the ways in which America has slipped off the tracks of decency and self-restraint.
Myers and Giffords and Green. Can we find the words to sing our sorrow for them, who each represent a failure of American ideals?
We have just come through a season when the airwaves were filled with the rhetoric of armed insurrection. One Congressional candidate showed Colonial figures and concluded with “Gentlemen, gather your armies.” Another called on her supporters to exercise their “second amendment rights” if she lost the election. A third candidate was shown blowing a hole in a piece of controversial legislation with a high-powered rifle.
Enough! It is bad that we have left so many of our citizens in such desperation that they are willing to harm themselves to get care delivered routinely in other wealthy countries. It is worse when a public official falls victim to fury and delusion. And it is a source of shame if our obsession with being right turns us into a nation that will not change even when we start shooting little girls.