“The Sunday Political Brunch” -- December 16, 2012

Newtown Candle.jpg

(Providence, Rhode Island) – The nation grieves this Sunday for the 20 children and six adults killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. It is important that we remember their names and lives. Here is a link: http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/12/connecticut-school-shootin...

Within minutes of the tragedy, the debate over what do became highly politicized and polarized, even with very few facts on the table. I found the harshness of the debate – particularly on social media - truly alarming, especially when I think we should still be in a state of mourning. The politics and policy questions will come in due time and should be vigorously debated, but not now. Now is the time to mourn, honor and remember.

Meanwhile, this is - by nature - a political column, so let’s talk about some of the other events of the week.

“News is Relative” – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fainted this week and suffered a concussion. Her office said it was due to fatigue and dehydration. Given the events in Connecticut, the Clinton illness was backpage news, and hardly anyone noticed. I always teach my students that “news is relative,” meaning that coverage of any event is in direct proportion to what else is making headlines. Had it not been for the Newtown tragedy, there would have been lots of satellite trucks parked outside the Clinton home or hospital. She has, at least for now, a realistic chance to be the next U.S. President and the first woman to do so. As Clinton is 65 years old, the “Hillary Healthwatch” will eventually become a big story.

“You’re Out” – Another lesson I teach my students is that the worst political wounds are often self-inflicted. I have been saying for weeks that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice would not become Secretary of State because of the way she answered questions about the fatal attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. Now I agree that it may not have been entirely her fault. Someone in the CIA or White House could have altered the talking points or story line for her TV interviews that day. And there could have been a massive and colossal intelligence failure, too, (although we know that former CIA Director David Petraeus labeled it an al-Qaeda attack within days).
But no matter where the “train went off the tracks,” Rice’s explanation was completely without any factual merit and the glare of the TV spotlight can be pretty unforgiving. She had no chance of being approved and did the President a favor by dropping out.

“Kerry Merry-Go-Round!” – So with Rice out, the deck is cleared for U.S. Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to be the next Secretary of State. The practice of “Senatorial Courtesy” all but guarantees approval by his colleagues. The last, and perhaps only time, a U.S. Senator has been rejected for a Cabinet nomination was in 1989, when former Senator John Tower (R-TX) was voted down as Secretary of Defense. The battle to succeed Kerry in the Senate will be fascinating. Current U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) was defeated for re-election in November, but has a very good shot at winning a special election for Kerry’s seat, which is likely to take place in June. The moderate Brown did very well in liberal Massachusetts when his race was the only one on the ballot in January of 2010; but 2012 was completely different, when he was defeated by well-funded challenger Elizabeth Warren, who also enjoyed the advantage of Obama's coattails. Still, Ted Kennedy’s widow Vicki might run for the Kerry seat, too. You’re going to need a scorecard to keep track of this one!

“The Missing Linc” – Here in Rhode Island, Governor Lincoln Chafee – a former Republican who won as an independent in 2010 – is now seriously considering running for reelection as a Democrat in 2014. That may upset the plans of Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo, both popular, and both thinking of running for the Democratic nomination. There will likely be a serious Republican challenger, and a Moderate Party nominee, too. Chafee’s chances of winning a four-way race are dicey. The more likely scenario is that President Obama will name Chafee to his Cabinet or to an Ambassadorship, and he will quietly leave the Governor's Office, where he has been fairly unpopular. Democrats – even in this very liberal state – have not held the Governor’s Office since 1994; and if Chafee should leave, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts would be the first Democrat in almost 20 years to hold the top job.

As always, I welcome your thoughts and questions! Click the comments button on www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

I think the fact that social media exploded in rage after the shooting is not surprising and I would argue may in fact be healthy if it brings to the surface some basic conflicts ripping our society apart.

On the left the reaction may well be fueled in part by this resentment over the right's insistence that no resources can be spent and no laws or regulations enacted to take on any of the numerous challenges faced by our 21st century society. This latest catastrophe became the focus for anger against the right.

On the right I believe it's more complex. It would seem a no brainer that a balance could be struck allowing people to keep hunting rifles, shotguns and handguns to defend themselves or enjoy the sport of shooting. However, the right argues that we must be allowed to own "weapons of war" as part of the 2nd amendment. The emotional core of this comes from the fantasy that these brave, average Americans will have to one day take-up arms against their government. This thread has only grown stronger in recent years and is clearly understood by listening to right-wing radio and pundits, who have fanned the flames of this "us against them" mentality. You can see this most clearly in Tea Party's use of the emblems of our revolutionary fathers, fancying themselves as modern revolutionaries.

The bottom line is, there can be no compromise with people who believe they will have to defend themselves "from" the government. Any attempt (by the government) to limit gun ownership plays into the hands of this fantasy and stiffens their resistance to a compromise that would improve public safety.

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