Monday, January 10, 2011

Lessons from Gabby... And From My Fellow Nevadans

This keeps haunting me. Even as we've already been discussing the danger of extremist rhetoric turning violent, Gabrielle Giffords and her message of breaking through partisan barriers seems more poignant and relevant than ever before.

Strangely enough, while Giffords was talking of bridging divides, this was playing in the background.

This takes me back to the night of Tuesday, November 2, 2010, and Harry Reid's hard earned Senate win here in Nevada.

As I talked about early this morning, last year's Senate campaign often brought out the worst in us. We saw brawls break out at "candidate forums", people's lives threatened, and an overall climate of unfettered rage and unprecedented fear plague our state. It was frightening...

But even amidst all of that, there were glimmers of hope. I saw the best of us shine through as I talked with my friends, my family, and my neighbors, even as the campaign blabber on TV often devolved to outright insanity.

One of my all time favorite videos of last year, if not my #1 favorite, was City of Reno Sustainability Administrator and Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Jason Geddes discussing what he does and how he viewed Senator Reid and his legislative agenda.

He just told it like it was, without resorting to histrionics or inflammatory language. And as I've said before, good policy always puts a big smile on my face.

And he wasn't the only one. I beamed with pride last month as I recounted my experience on the campaign trail over the last year.

[L]et's face it, it's much easier to believe the stereotypes of Nevadans than to take the time to really get to know us. It's easy to look at the numbers, but it's harder to look at the stories behind the numbers.

I actually did that. I met the kids who confronted Sharron Angle at Rancho High School over her race-baiting ads. I met my typically Republican neighbors in Henderson who voted early for Harry Reid. I met people who drove many miles to Dina Titus' campaign office because they believed she was "the real deal". I met folks pissed off at everyone and everyone, because they felt "overwhelmed" by all the negative campaign ads. I met volunteers who tuned out the political insanity as they were collecting food for the hungry, keeping community centers open, making parks and trails accessible to all the neighbors to use, and keeping the local libraries running with new and interesting knowledge just around the corner. [...]

Over the years, many authors have come to "investigate" Nevada and uncover all our "deep, dark secrets". We've been called everything from "The New American Dream" to the most evil, corrupt hellhole on the planet. However, you showed me that reality is quite different from any fairy tale or horror story shared by outsiders. You showed me that Nevada can be rough, but the people can be awfully tough.

There were many people, Democrats, Republicans, Nonpartisans, and others, here in Nevada who reaffirmed my faith in our country and our democracy. I will never forget that. Despite the efforts of some to rip our communities apart, there were so many Nevadans I met who just did what they knew to be best for our state and our country. And even when we disagreed, I was able to discuss issues with my friends, family, and neighbors respectfully.

I was thinking about this as Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough, CA), someone who survived the horror of Jonestown in 1978, went on CNN to remind us what politics and public service are all about.

Someone else who survived another tragic incident in 1978, Cleve Jones of Courage Campaign, had something to say about all this.

Maybe we need to listen to them. Maybe we need to listen to what Gabby tried to tell us. Right before Saturday's "Congress on Your Corner", Giffords did this.

The night before she and 19 others were shot at an event in Tucson, Arizona, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) wrote a warm email to Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, where she told the Republican "we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down."

Giffords remains in the hospital in critical condition after being shot in the head Saturday.

According to cn|2 Politics, which obtained the email, Giffords sent the message to congratulate Grayson for his recent appointment as director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

"After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation," Giffords wrote. "I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down."

Giffords and Grayson met in 2005, when they were part of the inaugural class of the Aspen Institute's Rodel Fellowship. In her email, Giffords promised to visit Grayson, and told him she thought his new job was "truly an incredible opportunity that will lead to wonderful things." Grayson told cn|2 Politics that he and Giffords spoke often about divisiveness in politics.

"That is something she and I have been quite passionate about -- to run for office in the right way and for the right reasons," Grayson said. "I think Gabby was really sincere in that email ... And I am going to to redouble my efforts."

I don't need to repeat what I've already said about this whole matter. When we've become so desensitized to violence and averse to honest policy discussion, there's a problem. We can't operate representative democracy like warfare. It only leads to bloodshed like we saw in Arizona on Saturday.

We all need to put aside our hostilities and have a serious conversation on how to move forward as a country without violence, with mutual respect, with a renewed focus on discussing policy rationally, and without fearing what happens when we seek common ground.

No comments:

Post a Comment