Senate Democrat Leader Vi Simpson took time during today’s session to comment on the tragic events surrounding the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Simpson called for all elected officials to lead an example of civil discourse, repudiate angry speech, and quell violence.
LISTEN: Simpson says, “I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the tragedy in Tucson…”
A transcription of Sen. Simpson’s comments:
“I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the tragedy in Tucson this weekend. Today, we sent our prayers to the families and colleagues of those who were killed, those who were injured, especially our prayers to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Speaker Boehner said this weekend that ‘when one elected official is attacked, we all are attacked.’ And, so, I know that all of us here in the Senate share the thoughts and prayers of this nation about Congresswoman Giffords’ fast recovery.
It’s also a time, I think, when we reflect – or when we should be reflecting – on how this and other tragedies like this occur. We don’t know what motivated this young man to do what he did. We don’t know if he was from the left or from the right or had no political agenda at all. We may never know what motivated him. But, there’s no denying that to him violence was an acceptable response to a disagreement he had with the congresswoman or with someone else. It was his way of making a point. So, maybe it’s a good time, even though Senator Long and I had just had a conversation, and we really don’t know other than, we can probably agree, that this young man has mental illness. We don’t know what motivated him. We don’t know if political rhetoric had anything to do with his actions. But, it is a good time, I think, for the nation to talk about heated political rhetoric and particularly insightful symbolism that seems to [be] becoming a part of the political debate.
Last year, during the election year, I remember reading in the New York Times a story by a columnist saying that if candidates wanted to win this election; that they had to tap in to the anger of their constituents; that they had to be, literally, angrier than their constituents. And I didn’t think much of it at the time but looking back on it now, I think, ‘How sad. What a sad statement that is about our nation and the anger that we all seem to be internalizing. I heard it in this election, I’m sure you did too, in political rhetoric, in campaign literature, on websites, on blog sites things like a U.S. Senate candidate talking about the ‘second amendment solution.’ I don’t know what else she would have expected people to think she meant by that. I heard someone say that we believe in the ballot and not bullets. But, if the ballot doesn’t work then we turn to bullets. These are people running for public office in states across this nation.
We pride ourselves here in the Senate on civil discourse. And I think we have all paid a lot of attention to that. We even have rules about that here in the Senate. And I know that there are going to be some very contentious issues before us. Some of them will be argued hotly and passionately, but I think it’s a good time to remind ourselves that we can be passionate about issues. We can feel those issues to our bone, but we also must be leaders in civil discourse. We have to continue the long tradition of civility between each other. We must be passionate for our positions, but we must also be tolerant and respectful of each other and opposing ideas, opposing philosophies, opposing beliefs. As leaders, we set the tone for our constituents, for voters, for all the citizens of this nation. And so, for me, as a leader in my own community and a leader here in this body, I want you to know that I am going to do everything I can to promote civil discourse and respect between all of us across this isle, across the hall, for the lobbyists who work and represent their constituency groups and above all for the voters and constituents that I represent. We have to be sure that we’re doing everything – each and every one of us – to reverse what I feel is a very powerful anger out there; that we’re not pouring more gasoline on that fire. But that’s inside. When we leave the halls, and we go home, we have to do everything we can to repudiate that kind of angry speech and those who would incite violence through the exercise of their first amendment rights. Words have consequences.
President Clinton – I didn’t know he had said this, but I, somebody did an old speech of his on TV this weekend – and he said, ‘Words we use really do matter. Those words fall on the serious and the delirious alike. The words fall on the sincere and the unhinged alike.’ We can’t do anything about what happened in Tucson or at Virginia Tech or at any of the other places where there has been violence against our citizens. But, perhaps, you and I together can do something about what happens in the future. We can step a little bit back from that political rhetoric and help our constituents understand that it is not through anger that we find solutions but through the hand of friendship, through the understanding and tolerance for each other. I make that pledge to you today, and I hope you’ll join me. Thank you.”