Sometimes an incidence of national importance occurs that has special meaning to you. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has been one of those moments for me.
I interviewed Rep. Giffords in the summer of 2007, shortly after her election to her first term. I remember her as being a thoroughly pleasant woman, one who was enthusiastic about providing her Tucson constituents with honest, zealous public service.
Her days as president of El Campo Tire, the 11-store dealership founded by her grandfather, were already several years in her past. But she still held fond memories of the business.
“It's a salt-of-the-earth industry,” she said. “The people are genuine, hardworking and down-to-earth.” She spoke warmly of the industry executives who acted as her mentors, especially Chris Publow of Ted Wiens Tire & Auto Centers.
Being a congresswoman, she said, isn't all that different from running a small business. “I have a $1.3 million budget, 20 employees and three locations,” she said. “Though obviously we're not selling tires here, but crafting legislation.”
Although Giffords touched base with the rubber industry again—she spoke at a Rubber Manufacturers Association meeting in Tucson—I didn't meet her after that. Her House committee assignments have little overlap with the rubber manufacturing business, although occasionally I would report on her positions regarding broader issues.
I recall when vandals shattered the glass door of her Tucson office last March, in apparent protest of her vote for President Obama's health care package, I was appalled. “Can you imagine anyone doing such a thing?” I thought.
Now Giffords is working to recover from a head wound, and six others are dead from the shooting. Those who know Jared Loughner say he bore a grudge against Giffords for what he considered an inadequate answer to a question he posed her at a town meeting. Loughner's question: “What is government if words have no meaning?”
We are faced ourselves with troubling questions. How much did inflamed political rhetoric influence Loughner? Why was a man known for years to be unbalanced able to buy a semi-automatic police weapon and get within point-blank range of an elected official? But along with the questions is the answer all of us must give the Jared Loughners: Words do have meaning. So does government, and so do human lives. It is our job as Americans, and as human beings, to stand firm against anyone who would deny this, or who would threaten this.
Moore is the senior Washington reporter for Rubber & Plastics News.