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So, Did Anything Unusual Happen Over Last Weekend?

Robert Letcher: With all the violence and contempt that seemed “in the air”, it was starting to feel like some “Tucson” was bound to happen, but there wasn’t enough actionable information: no “when”, no “where”. Nor were resources available to “look into the situation”, as they had been to President Bush.

Last weekend started off normally enough. Friday found me commenting to the NPR Ombudsman regarding the firing of that NPR vice-president who had fired Juan Williams. At the time, it seemed important, so I wrote:


"[That VP] should have fired Mr. William--errr, Mr. Williams-- sooner, when he became the first NPR person to publicly pledge allegiance to the Fox/Republican way of referring to "things Democratic"; that is, as "things Democrat"."

"A few years ago, I emailed Mr. Williams, asking: “Mr. William: When you drop the “ic" in "Democratic" and say "Democrat" instead, do you think that you are affronting me any less than you, I hope, felt affronted when you read my intentional misspelling of your name in addressing you above?"

NPR timestamp for my comment: “7 January, 2011 3:49:04 PM EST”—still more than fifteen hours until the Tucson shootings. As Friday wore on, I allowed myself to enjoy the fact that my comment was among the “most recommended”. Alas! By early evening, I realized that I had also allowed myself to forget why I write in the first place: to change the world.

And there was still no way for any of us to anticipate precisely the Tucson shootings, a situation eerily similar to the one that George W. Bush faced when he received the National Intelligence Briefing that warned “bin Laden determined to strike US”: With all the violence and contempt that seemed “in the air”, it was starting to feel like some “Tucson” was bound to happen, but there wasn’t enough actionable information: no “when”, no “where”. Nor were resources available to “look into the situation”, as they had been to President Bush.

So, still tied into thinking of the world in post-Juan Williams, pre-Tucson terms, I posted a second comment to the same NPR site, emphasizing the importance of our collectively learning how to answer the question raised years ago in the now seemingly distant past by Rodney King: Can we all get along? Tucson can hardly be received as surprising in view of our collective non-response to King’s question:

"So-o-o-o, what are we going to do? Since last March when I sat down with my Parkinson's sign at a health reform rally and some Tea-Party people treated me rudely, I've been trying every way I could think of to arrange some sort of "conversation" toward developing ways to learn how to get us through this awful division. It occurs to me that interested people could post to this "comment board", or possibly NPR could set up some sort of dedicated and moderated discussion forum. Reactions encouraged."

My comment got a time stamp of “7 January, 2011 9:26:01 PM EST”; it was still motivated by pre-Tucson “division.

So, I wrote a short comment to the NY Times, hoping to use my personal story to emphasize the terrible adverse impact of the Tucson shootings:

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"I’m the guy with Parkinson's who was treated rudely by some Tea-Partiers at a Health Care Reform rally in Columbus last Spring. At the time, I didn't think my actions made me a "hero".

"Two weekends after the election, in a "lessons learned" session of Ohio progressives, I mentioned why I felt that way: basically, that my sign—it read in part: “Got Parkinson's? I do, and you might.” would make my argument for me. I felt safe, as long as I remained calm, especially with so many cops and cameras around

"But risks had already changed in the interim. Referring to actual events, I said, "Now that head-stomping has been approved by at least one Senator’s security people, and with the increasing popularity of ‘Second Amendment remedies’, I’m not sure whether I’d feel safe enough to risk the same action again." I started to wonder whether what I did last Spring just might qualify as heroic.

"Now that a real Congressperson and several other real people have been on the real receiving end of a real Second Amendment remedy, it's clear that I was a bit heroic... and even more naïve: I really doubt that I'd take the risk again (if the Second Amendment remedies folks didn’t kill me while I was at the rally, my three moms would shoot me later for having gone to it."

robert letcher

On Saturday, Tucson happened, in Tucson. And that changed many things. At the risk of sounding self-absorbed, however, I’d like to think that some of the ideas I’ve mentioned would still be helpful in soothing nerves frayed by the steady streak of antagonism, goaded on by people who cloak their self-interest in endless empty appeals to those parts of the Constitution that are already interpreted in ways that suit them, while remaining—outwardly,at least—oblivious to the key roles they play in reifying the whole institutional setting that their systematically asymmetrical access to power affords them.

Please see my (admittedly sarcastic) essay, “FLASH—Liberal Media Biased Against the East Pole," published in 2008.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t express my sorrow over the attempted assassination of a fellow Cornell planner. I send healing energy and best wishes to you!

Bob Letcher