Sunday, January 9, 2011

On the Anguish of Arizona


      By Ross Newhan

       It is Sunday morning and I am experiencing the same knot in the pit of my stomach that I expect most Americans are experiencing.

       I am staring at a keyboard that has been the instrument of my life's work unsure of what words to choose. Of course, for almost 50 years I have written entirely about games and the people who play them and the words have come reasonably easy--on occasion even winning awards for those I have chosen.

      Now I feel that I would like to write about something far more serious and I don't know quite what I want to say, and ultimately, in cases like this, I think about what a journalism instructor named John Gartner, the man who put me on this course at Long Beach Wilson High many decades ago, advised: keep it short and keep it simple.

     Yesterday in Arizona (the most "bigoted and racist" state in the nation said the sherrif of Pima County, referring to the very state he must help protect), an allegedly deranged young man using a gun he obviously had little trouble obtaining despite his mental history and turned it on an informal meeting that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was conducting with political constituents.

     Six people were killed, including a respected federal judge and a nine year old girl who was the grand- daughter of longtime baseball man and acquaintance Dallas Green and the daughter of Dodger scout John Green. The Congresswoman is in critical condition after brain surgery.

    I do not pretend to know what motivated the troubled Jared Lee Loughner, but this I do know:

   Unless the rhetoric in this country is turned down, unless the message coming out of Washington becomes one of legitimate compromise, there will be other tragic events, other mornings when we share a knot in the pit of our stomachs.

   Debate is the fabric of our country, but what was the exact moment, the time and place, when civility disappeared? Yes, there were times, have been times, when I wrote negatively about some of the people I covered as a humble baseball writer, but I tried to present my thinking reasonably, devoid of any poison in my pen. Some may disagree. There were times I received argumentative reactions from people of the stature of Bud Selig, Tom Lasorda and others, but the avenues of communication remained open.

   Now, the jarring discourse from cable television, from talk radio, from even the gallery and the floor of Congress, is so heated that legitimate comprise and reasonable debate seems beyond the grasp of the leaders we have elected, the personalities we listen to, and even the people who sit in our kitchens, the members of our own families.

   John Adams and Thomas Jefferson strongly disagreed on the course a young country should take and the type of government it should have, but it would serve all of us good to go back and reread the civility of the letters that these founding fathers exchanged in the twilight of their lives.

   In this, my semi-retirement, I try to stay abreast of daily developments by spending an hour or two  watching the cable news shows on both sides of the spectrum, but the tone is so harsh, the message from hosts and guests so unremitting from one day to another, that I am quick to reach for the remote. There is always ESPN, although negotiating 15 minutes of Chris Berman's decibels is not exactly easy or relaxing either.

   Chris is harmless and fun. The rest of it often is neither.

   A staff member of a Florida politician in the recent elections is quoted saying that if ballots fail to work there are always bullets.

 Sarah Palin runs a TV advertisement on behalf of the Tea Party targeting the Democrats who should be defeated by using a gun sight for their locations in the country, Congresswoman Giffords being one.

  The Congresswoman won her election for a third term, defeating an opponent who had invited supporters to come out and shoot an M-16 with him.

  We can only hope that the events of Saturday in Arizona will finally get the message across. We need a return to civility. We need to tone it down. On both sides of the aisle and the street we need to do what is best for the country and our neighbors.

   Yes, I can hear John Gartner yelling from the grave that short and simple is best, so I will go watch playoff football and hope that the knot in my stomach eases, that Saturday will not have been in vain.           



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