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John Colson: Hit and Run

John Colson
Aspen Times Weekly
Aspen, CO Colorado

Just when you think at least a temporary form of sanity has been restored to the national political dialogue, somebody pops off and things get all crazy again.

This time, it was a loony named Jared Lee Loughner in Arizona, allegedly shooting a congresswoman and a bunch of others, killing six, including a judge. It all happened at a street corner in downtown Tucson, while the congresswoman was conducting a meet-and-greet with her constituents.

Now, when I say loony, I am using that term advisedly.

His shaved-head, grinning mug shot from jail is circulating around the Internet, and the guy makes Charles Manson look like a Calvin Klein model having a bad hair day.

Turns out his beef with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords goes back to 2007, when he asked an unanswerable question and she pissed him off by not answering it to his satisfaction. It also turns out he is the kind of freak who erects a shrine to some inner death-cult impulse in his back yard, complete with a denuded human skull.

The question he asked Giffords, for those not paying much attention, was, “What is government if words have no meaning?” The kind of question that might be tossed out at a party among friends too stoned to care how stupid they sound. Or by a guy who thinks he’s got all the answers and is God’s gift to humanity.

But this guy apparently was as serious as a heart attack about it, really expected some kind of answer that he could relate to. Which was a problem because, in my rather limited understanding of his mental processes, this guy would have a hard time relating to anything approaching reality.

After that, like any seriously self-absorbed, attention-seeking nut case, he stewed about it, obsessed about it, replayed the conversation in his head over and over for three years until he convinced himself that she had to die.

That’s the way I read it, at least for now.

So he went out and bought himself a pistol with an extended magazine, to make sure he had enough ammo to do the job right and maybe take out a few bystanders in the process, which would put his name in lights and place him on a list of utter whack-jobs with an ax to grind and no compunction about using that ax to chop off a few random heads.

So, here we are. Giffords is fighting for her life, as are half-a-dozen other victims now housed in an intensive care ward at a Tucson hospital. And the national political dialogue, quite as self-absorbed as Loughner could ever be, is chewing itself to bits in an advanced version of the blame game, everyone saying that everyone else is being too shrill, too vitriolic, using too much violence-tinged rhetoric.

The trouble is, the blame won’t be easily attached to anyone.

That’s because it’s everyone’s fault. We’re all so mad at everything and everyone, we can’t see straight. It’s a mood thing, and the mood in this country right now is ugly. So ugly things happen.

The most worrisome part of all this is the talk of a need to muzzle the rhetoric. Already people are pontificating about passing laws limiting the nastiness of our chatter, hoping that the ugliness will quiet down and go away.

Won’t happen, of course. If we start passing laws about what we can and can’t say to each other, then things are likely to get even uglier. Because when you put a lid on a pressure cooker without a release valve, it explodes.

Something needs to be done, though, and that something is this: We, as an electorate, need to start thinking again, making choices based on reality, on information and on the truth, rather than a lot of self-serving lies and accusations and misleading hyperbole.

We need to start electing people to government posts whose main interest is not in getting rich and powerful and staying in office, but in doing the job for a little while and then going back to private lives.

We need to remember the basic principles of a representative democracy, apply them, and watch the results with a critical eye, ready to remake them if we’re not satisfied.

Otherwise, we’re going to get what we’ve asked for and, in many ways, already have – a plutocratic, authoritarian government that works against us instead of for us.

And the anger will continue to build.

jcolson@aspentimes.com


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