On Wednesday afternoon, we got perhaps the most disappointing answer yet to a question that I have been asking myself for most of my journalistic career.
It happened as we watched the House’s dueling speeches and censure of the unrepentant Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., for having tweeted an anime video of himself as a cartoonish superhero fatally stabbing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and swinging two swords at President Joe Biden.
Yet, watching that angry ritual, I found myself thinking back to a remarkable and uplifting moment in that same chamber just four years earlier. It occurred as a result of a tragically real congressional assassination attempt. But it left us with a very different perception of how House Republican leaders used to see their responsibility as coinciding with old-fashioned American patriotism.
FLASHBACK – to 10:55 a.m. on Sept. 28, 2017: As aides open the massive House chamber door, more than 400 representatives jump to their feet and begin clapping and cheering as one. You can’t tell the Democrats from the Republicans. A solidly built man enters, walking very slowly but surely, using two canes for support, now that he has learned to walk again. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., who was then House Majority Whip, is returning to work. More than three months earlier, he was horribly wounded by a Trump-hating assassin who sprayed bullets randomly at Republicans at a baseball field, as they practiced for their annual game with the Democrats. At the microphone, Scalise speaks of “the outpouring of love from you, my colleagues, both Republican and Democrat.” Congress is famous for its political battle, he says, “but ultimately we come together. … It’s so important that as we have those political battles, we don’t make them personal.”
FAST-FORWARD – to this past week. The scene we all saw on our news screens was nothing like that moment four years ago that was filled with happy hearts, moist eyes and not a trace of red or blue politics. What we saw and felt this past week was the reality of Congress 2021 – a place where hearts are cold and eyes are glaring. Especially on the Republican side, where a Rep. Gosar just did everything his party’s now minority whip seemed to abhor on that 2017 day.
There’s a reason that I’m focusing on this topic today. I have covered most of the shattering assassinations and near misses of the last half century:
•1968: the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
•1972: the paralyzing near assassination of George Wallace.
•1975: two failed assassinations of Gerald Ford; a frightening faux assassination when a man pointed a blank-shooting starter’s pistol at Ronald Reagan.
•1981: the assassination attempt that almost killed Reagan and severely wounded my friend and his press secretary, Jim Brady.
I came away from chronicling all of that wondering just what really motivated those warped minds to commit their godawful crimes. Were they triggered by some thoughtless thing said or done by someone they admire?
And that brings me back to the warped mind of Paul Gosar. Could his heinous conduct have twisted the easily manipulated mind of a future assassin? And is there a Republican House leader who really cares enough about that to have done something to prevent it?
Well, it wasn’t the Republicans’ leader-lite Wannabe Speaker, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. On Wednesday, McCarthy mainly was about vowing to rain retribution down on key Democrats if Republicans gain control of the House.
The last time a representative was censured, a decade ago, most Democrats joined in censuring one of their most popular colleagues, Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y. Because it was the right thing to do. On Wednesday, all but two Republicans voted against censuring Gosar.
And that brings us back to Scalise. The leader I respected when he grasped all the core principles in 2017 unfortunately chose to be morally MIA on Wednesday. In 2017, Scalise told the House that world leaders who had called him after the attempted assassinations “saw this as an attack on the institution of the United States Congress and our government.”
The GOP House whip who gave Gosar a pass on Wednesday got his “thank you” the next day: Gosar retweeted the violent video anime in which he kills the House liberal he most loves to hate – and swings swords aimed at killing America’s president.
But if Scalise is up for a video, I have a far more worthwhile alternative:
Check out a speech that was given by a once-principled and grateful House leader, right after he walked into the House chamber at 10:55 a.m. on Sept. 28, 2017, and began his second chance at life and service.
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