Peaceful and Violent Changes

Posted on January 12, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized |

One of the brightest days on the Congressional calendar is the day when members are sworn in to a new Congress. January 5th, the 112th didn’t disappoint. Walking down the halls of Congress you are warmly welcomed into the offices of many MOC who host welcome back receptions. It’s a time to catch up with friends, congratulate members on their reelection and/or committee chairmanships, express sympathy for the many losses and recharge for the new session. Though the Democrats were generally a bit glum about handing over chairmanships and majority control of the House, I was struck by the miracle of the peaceful movement of the gavel from the Democrats to the Republicans. By contrast, and for a variety of personal and professional reasons, we have been studying the elections in the Ivory Coast and Belorussia where strongmen have refused to step down despite international sanctions and world outcry. Violence, kidnapping, armed guards and other horrors abound.

Nevertheless, our peaceful transitions and open society is too often marked by armed violence and tragedy, such as the events in Tucson with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, demonstrate. Pundits nationwide are assigning causal relationships between the Tucson violence and pet theories – too many guns, vitriolic political rhetoric, Sarah Palin’s crosshairs, media incitement, poor communication between mental health professionals and others, gun magazine clips that have too many rounds. We will never be able to ascertain causality. However, in the interim, we need to acknowledge that threats against legislators and other public figures is not new. Even during my time on the Senate Banking Committee, so many years ago, we separated constituent letters from the “crazies” from the rest. Two of our Presidents have been shot. One particular woman used to wander K Street and allege that a Pennsylvania Congressman was engaged in “mind control” through radioactive waves and he should be killed.

Causality theories are difficult, if not impossible to tease out. In the interim, we think we need the Secret Service or Homeland Security to beef up their budgets and assign security detail, metal detectors and bomb prevention methods to members of Congress and other policymakers.

We need to ensure that our leaders can safely continue to pass the gavels peacefully and uneventfully.

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