Monday, January 10, 2011

What I Read Today - Monday January 10, 2011

From: The Daily Beast

By: Eleanor Clift

As the Arizona congresswoman fights for survival after being shot in the head, Eleanor Clift recalls her comments a week ago—on nasty rhetoric and what it takes to be in Congress today.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is fighting for her life after being shot in the head at an event in Tucson Saturday. The news is stunning—all the more so because I was talking with her just a week ago, at Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, South Carolina, the annual gathering of self-improvers where Giffords and her astronaut husband, Captain Mark Kelly, have long been regulars.

The sessions at Renaissance weekend feature pointed, if always polite, political reflection. They are off the record, but given Giffords’ grave condition, I think it’s worthwhile to recount some of what she said in the two panels that I shared with her. One was on “Post-Partisanship—How did it come to this?”; the other on “How’d we get here?” She talked about how ugly her last campaign was with ads that said, "Her husband won't even vote for her—why should we?" Those spots referred to the fact that Captain Kelly is active duty military assigned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and as such has a legal address that is not in his wife’s district. Plus, he has children from a former marriage that requires his residency where they are. In recounting the ads, she seemed stung by the unfairness of the attack and its personal nature, considering the supposed reverence of her opponent for the military.

Giffords lamented colleagues who draw the spotlight for “outlandish and mean behavior….You get no reward for being the normal, reasonable person."

Her 2010 race cost $4.2 million. It was her third congressional election. In her relatively short legislative career in Washington, she raised and spent over $10 million—a fact she pointed out with an emphasis reflecting her dismay at what it takes to maintain a career in Congress these days. “At night, I'm not out with friends having a nice dinner. I'm in the call center, where, because of the time difference, I can call until 10 p.m.," she said. Giffords is one of 12 Blue Dogs left in Republican districts, and the only woman member of Congress left in a Republican district. She is back home every weekend, she said. "Nobody moves families to Washington anymore unless they're in an impossibly safe district." She talked about her struggles as a moderate: "It's held against you if you cross party lines,” she says. Case in point: The first vote she cast in this new Congress as one of some 20 Democrats opposing Nancy Pelosi as minority leader drew a Daily Kos screed titled “My Congresswoman voted against Pelosi, now she’s dead to me.” After the shooting, Daily Kos removed that post from the site.

Giffords lamented how lawmakers with high profiles today get attention, pointing to Michele Bachmann, Alan Grayson, and Joe “You Lie” Wilson, who earned their place in the spotlight through "outlandish and mean behavior….You get no reward for being the normal, reasonable person."

Giffords took a strong stand against the Arizona anti-immigration bill, and though we don't yet know the motivation of the young man who did the shooting, it's likely that the heated emotions aroused in the state over the immigration issue may have played a role. Giffords was one of 20 Democrats on the target list that Sarah Palin posted before the election, which featured the crosshairs of a gun site over each member’s district. It’s been taken down since the shooting—but can't be erased from the blogs.

On a personal note, Giffords is one of the smartest, nicest and down-to-earth people I've ever encountered in the political world, a truly committed public servant with a great future. What a terrible irony that her husband can go up into space in a capsule and return home safely but his wife’s safety can’t be assured outside a Safeway supermarket.

Eleanor Clift is a contributing editor for Newsweek.

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