What Should Obama Say in Arizona?

January 11th, 2011 at 10:33 am David Frum | 24 Comments |

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The president is scheduled to travel to the state tomorrow. He will have to say something, but what?

Allahpundit at Hotair.com predicts a condescending disaster.

Politico is pushing the idea of an“Oklahoma City moment” replete with quotes from Paul Begala about The One moving us to a “higher ground.” There are three ways a presidential speech on this can go, I figure. One is Obama doing his gauzy “let’s disagree without being disagreeable” thing, which will give Chris Matthews a full-body tingle but leave pretty much everyone else feeling “eh, fine.” Two is giving the left what it wants by going full-bore demagogue on Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, et al., which would make an already toxic political moment insanely radioactive. If he’s remotely serious about promoting a healthier dialogue, he’ll avoid that at all costs. Three is Obama gently scolding the left for being quick to point fingers about the shooting before they had the facts (which, of course, The One was also guilty of vis-a-vis Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. Crowley). That would earn him some momentary, ephemeral goodwill from the right but would enrage liberals, who would see it not only as an instance of him blaming the wrong side but of trying to ingratiate himself with centrists ahead of 2012.

But there are lots of other options, including this:

Go all in on mental health. Liberals will want the president to address gun control. Unsmart. Stokes your opposition, leads to a political contest you cannot win, and even if you do win, what really do you accomplish? A ban on extended magazines? Next time the killer will bring two guns.

But more resources for mental health services? Democrats say yay. Enhancement of power to commit the dangerously mentally ill? Will appeal to the center and right. Bonus point: such a discussion inherently favors the president by stimulating a discussion about what government can and should do, rather than the preferred Republican topic of what government can’t and shouldn’t.

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24 Comments so far ↓

  • politicalfan

    He seems to be politically correct, even if people have pointed out his past gaffes. I think has enough reflection to use his words wisely and stay center. I would be ultra suprised if he gets political at all.

  • Dex

    He should say what Rep. Giffords said last March – if gun fetishizers go around putting their political opponents in crosshairs, don’t be surprised if there are consequences.

  • aed

    “Go all in on mental health”?? How is this even possible without new government regulations and expenditures? It’s an impossible proposition in this climate. Gun control isn’t a loser – 99.9% of responsible gun owners would agree that we should attempt to keep guns out of the hands of both unstable and irresponsible citizens. Why would gun owners want to be endangered any more than non-gun owners?

  • tom78212

    Focus not only what the government has a “right” to do but the government “can” do. This is not a time to rant about gun control or even on inflammatory rhetoric. Everyone else is doing that. Stay calm, reasoned, and above all intelligent. Be concerned about the victims.

  • armstp

    My feeling is David Frum, no matter what the President says you and the right will critize him!

  • PracticalGirl

    Go “all-in” on mental health, David?

    OK, but to do that he must also discuss the overall mental health of our country. How sick is a country’s population when it becomes acceptable, even preferable, to conduct political campaigns that are replete with nasty name-calling and accusations? How crazy have we, as a populace, become when- for shits and giggles and all in the name of fundraising-a candidate hosts event where participants are invited to “Remove” his opponent by shooting an M-16 at a target with said opponents face on it…And nobody in his camp bats an eye? If not mentally ill, then how psychically sick are we, as a nation, when we deny cause and effect?

    You betcha, I’d LOVE to hear him talk about the insanity that has become so normal in our everyday life and the causal relationship it plays into the increased violence in the US. But most of your compadres on the right wouldn’t.

    I needn’t repeat it all, but if we learned anything at all over the past two days it’s that a whole lot of Americans don’t want to have any conversation that may be steeped in reality.

  • Bebe99

    I find it hard to take anyone seriously who uses terms like “The One” to refer to the president. If Allahpundit really thinks any significant portion of the left idolizes Obama, then the rest of his assumptions are probably faulty too. I stopped reading after that one.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    Wow, a greater example of why I would never read trash like Hotair is evident in that one asinine screed. “the one” these idiots are still using that hackneyed term?

    And going all in on mental health costs money. When Arizona is denying medical care to children (the waiting list is what, 18 years, at which point they will age out) do you truly think Republicans are going to want to spend money on bag ladies? For them, it is far cheaper to lock up the ones who go violent and let the rest fend for themselves.

    Obama made a restrained and dignified address the day of the shooting. I expect him to talk about the victims and the heroes which, I noticed, asshole pundit did not even consider might also be a topic of the address. What a wanker.

  • JohnnyA

    “I find it hard to take anyone seriously who uses terms like “The One” to refer to the president.” -Bebe99

    Same here. When I see that, whether I agree with the views of the writer or not, it’s an immediate tip off that it’s a junk piece full of hot air and move on to the next article.

  • Saladdin

    lessado, I tend to agree. The tragedy is not the key for the President’s speech, its the stories of the heroes and those shot. I think the President will tend to focus on the “good” rather than the tragedy.

  • deberb

    I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008. I won’t vote for him in 2012. President Obama, I belief has been humbled since November 2010 and KNOWS he must lead with his heart and leave politics out of this or risk more criticism from both parties.

    To: PracticalGirl – I believe the day President Obama was inaugurated he brought this country to her feet and that was a real dose of reality!

  • medinnus

    In terms of how the Right is going to react, there is no good answer – history has shown that they will misquote and condemn him, using whatever he says as further proof that he’s a Kenyan over-spending Anti-Christ.

    On the other hand, considering how many Tea Partiers in AZ carried automatic weapons to town hall meetings, I sure hope the Secret Service team does a good coverage job.

  • kevin47

    ““Go all in on mental health”?? How is this even possible without new government regulations and expenditures?”

    Everything’s possible with demagoguery!

    I think he has to make some commitment to do something, but can’t propose anything that will piss off the right or the left. Mental health is the way to go. Everybody likes that. He can commit $14 million or something to it and move on.

    He might avoid the discussion of rhetoric entirely, but will likely call on both sides to tone it down.

    He learned his lesson from the Boston cop incident about straying from the talking points. The speech will be measured and boring. Neither the left nor the right will find much to talk about.

    If he tries to pull the “I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’” type arguments I’ve been reading from the left, insinuating that the right was atmospherically responsible, he’ll be pilloried. But this issue isn’t polling well for the “blame it on Palin” types, so I don’t even think he’ll touch it.

  • baw1064

    Considering how political the discussion (including on this board) has gotten over the last four days, I think the President would be well served to keep politics out of his speech.

  • Arizona shootings fallout – live blog | Rubytall News

    [...] Wednesday. Frum argues that it would be a non-partisan pitch that would appeal to left and right. Frum writes: Go all in on mental health. Liberals will want the president to address gun control. Unsmart. [...]

  • ktward

    Go all in on mental health.

    A noble idea, but I doubt that Obama is incognizant of the can of worms this would open, especially in light of this AZ tragedy. Nowhere close to the majority of mental illness sufferers are prone to violent outbursts, though high populations of certain substance abusers are. Despite some complicated correlations, as it stands today institutional treatment for substance abuse and mental illness are managed separately.

    But let’s look at this from the everyman’s perch:

    First, since many sufferers of mental illness are either homeless or otherwise destitute, we’ll need to expand gov’t-funded outreach in order to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate these people so they might be empowered to become productive members of society.

    Second, there are plenty of otherwise ‘high-functioning’ sufferers of mental illness who are but a circumstance away from low/non-functioning. They don’t seek help because:

    - They can’t afford it as their Health Insurance only marginally covers (if at all) mental health services. Unfortunately, even the ACA does not provide remedy among employees of small biz. (<50 employees)

    - They're concerned (rightfully so) that any serious diagnosis & course of treatment is likely to negatively impact their future prospects in terms of getting a job, a credit card, a loan, life insurance, etc.

    - Unlike say, diabetes or cancer, mental illness hangs a neon stigma around your neck. Despite every effort at discretion. Talk about adding insult to injury.

    Nevermind Obama. He's a Dem.
    Tell me, Mr. Frum, as a devout GOP elite, how exactly would you suggest we "Go all in on mental health."? Near as I can tell, the GOP isn't concerned with even a "tiny bit in" (beyond incarceration) much less "all in".

    Enhancement of power to commit the dangerously mentally ill? Will appeal to the center and right.

    Enhancement of power?
    What does that mean? Whose power? Do you mean that, outside of qualified health professionals, neighbors and family and police should be more easily afforded the power to deem a person ‘dangerous’? Sans elaboration, “Enhanced power to commit” simply sounds like an excuse for more easily rounding people up. I suppose that might appeal to the Christian Right. Not so much the libertarian Right.

    It’s a safe guess that Obama’s camp doesn’t pay any attention to the advice proffered by Mr. Axis of Evil. Phew.

  • Sitting_In_Motown

    I have an idea: Why don’t we stop breathlessly awaiting the words of a U.S. president — any U.S. president — as if one human being should have such sanctity and authority? This isn’t “The King’s Speech.” An American president was never intended to have this sort of sweeping impact, his “words to the nation” solemnly anticipated as if he’s to be relaying truths from a burning bush. It’s pitiful, really.

    A president is just a guy. He’s a guy who’s supposed to sit in some building south of Maryland for four years and execute laws and handle administrative busy work. He’s not our “leader.” We’re Americans — we’re not here to be led. We don’t need him to do healing or speak truths or “set tones” or any of the rest of it. We don’t need to imbue him with that sort of power.

    Gene Healy nailed it when he called it the cult of the presidency. It’s antithetical to the American idea, and it’s frustrating to see just how persistent it has become, happily accepted and rarely questioned.

  • habsfan

    This is Obama’s opportunity to rise above political bickering. Avoid all partisan issues, focus on the “healing” of those who suffered, ask the nation to share in grieving. Essential pious empathy is central. Even send a word of healing to the family of the killer. He must act presidential. This is his opportunity to move outside the debate and insulate himself. If he broaches gun control, health care etc…he will be pilloried for threatening the constitution or making political hay over a national tragedy. Debate intensifies even more. Remember, there is no election for two years and this event will be forgotten in the campaign. If he acts and speaks presidential, and rises above the fray it will be difficult for the “Palinites” to challenge him as they would come across as disingenuous and insensitive. In addition, the Prez would be best served by letting his key congressional do the dirty work. There is nothing for him to gain here by being partisan.

  • SkepticalIdealist

    The Frumster makes a good point. We could use more money for mental health. Liberals will be happy and it avoids enraging conservatives, who are hyper-defensive at this point because they know their history and how it makes them look.

    However, I actually don’t think Obama talking about political rhetoric is such a bad idea. I simply don’t understand why it’s so gosh darn important not to piss off conservatives (other than the fact that they might shoot you). If they want to throw a hissy fit over this, why not let them? I think it’ll only make them look worse and draw more attention to their own overheated rhetoric.

  • getreal

    There is another option on what Obama could say; let’s call it the FBI option.

    After the dust settles, Obama and the pundits will have to address this list below of recent events, because it isn’t going to go away, and I hate to say, it will probably happen again (if nothing changes). I think the smarter approach would be to do some soul searching on recent political discourse and attacks (named in the list), and come up with his side’s new rules for nonviolent speech. I think the Dems need to do this as well as the Republicans because they have drifted into violent speech as well.

    And Obama and the pundits still have to explain this list of events at the end of the day. That’s what this is going to come down to, specific examples and specific changes. I’m certain that this list is EXACTLY how the FBI sees what’s going on.

    So should the American people. And Obama’s best option:

    Lay out the Democrat’s new rules for nonviolent speech or a commission that will write them.

    Following is the list of events since June 2010 for Obama’s speech analysis:

    Does history speak? Can it tell us anything about the current level of political discourse and violence?

    Here are facts of history just from June 2010. Is this the list Loughner belongs on?


    June 2010—Rick Barber, a Tea Party candidate seeking the Republican nomination in Alabama’s Second Congressional District, runs a campaign ad in which he dicusses contemporary political issues with America’s Founding Fathers. After Barber states “I would impeach him” and rails about the “progressive income tax,” the Internal Revenue Service, and health care reform, a Founding Father replies, “Gather your armies.” Several Founding Fathers are depicted as being armed with pistols.

    June 9, 2010—Addressing the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, FOX commentator Glenn Beck says, “Shoot me in the head if you try to change our government—I will stand against you. And so will millions of others.” Beck also compares American Progressives to Osama bin Laden and claims “they want to overthrow our entire system of government.”

    June 27, 2010—Rick Barber, a Tea Party candidate seeking the Republican nomination in Alabama’s Second Congressional District, runs a campaign ad in which he compares taxation and “the tyrannical health care bill” to slavery and the extermination of Jews in Nazi Germany. “We live in perilous times … We are all becoming slaves to our government,” Barber warns. The “army of voters” depicted in the ad includes individuals who are openly armed with guns. In a follow-up editorial in the Washington Post, Barber makes reference to “the possibility of evil conducted on a grand scale” and states, “Totalitarianism doesn’t come all at once … The road to serfdom is a long one, but I fear that we are well on the way.”

    July 2, 2010—The Wyoming Department of Revenue suspends sales tax collections at the state’s gun shows because of “increasing animosity” toward field tax agents. Dan Noble, director of the department’s Excise Tax Division, cites one particular incident at a gun show that “crossed the line” and says, “We tend to have more trouble at gun shows than any place … I have 10 field reps throughout the state, and every one of them has experienced some animosity … I don’t want to put my people at risk.”

    July 3, 2010—Joyce Kaufman, a conservative radio hosts on WFTL in Florida, tells a crowd of supporters at a Fort Lauderdale Tea Party event, “I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendments rights was they gave me a Second Amendment. And if ballots don’t work, bullets will. This is the standoff. When I say I’ll put my microphone down on November 2nd if we haven’t achieved substantial victory, I mean it. Because if at that point I’m going to up into the hills of Kentucky, I’m going to go out into the Midwest, I’m going to go up in the Vermont and New Hampshire outreaches and I’m going to gather together men and women who understand that some things are worth fighting for and some things are worth dying for.”

    July 6, 2010—Herb Titus, a lawyer for Gun Owners of America, tells Religion Dispatches, “… the purpose of the right to keep and bear arms—is to defend yourself against a tyrant.” Titus goes on to cite the “totalitarian threat” posed by “Obamacare” and “what Sarah Palin said about the death panels.”

    July 11, 2010—Supporters of Tea Party candidate Joe Miller openly carry assault rifles and handguns during a community parade in Eagle River and Chugiak, Alaska, while young children march alongside them. Miller, who is running against Senator Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, was endorsed by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who described him as a “true Commonsense Constitutional Conservative.”

    July 18, 2010—California Highway Patrol officers arrest Byron Williams, 45, after a shootout on I-580 in which more than 60 rounds are fired. Officers had pulled Williams over in his pick-up for speeding and weaving in and out of traffic when he opened fire on them with a handgun and a long gun. Williams, a convicted felon, is shot several times, but survives because he is wearing body armor. Williams, a convicted felon, reveals that he was on his way to San Francisco to “start a revolution” by killing employees of the ACLU and Tides Foundation. Williams’ mother says her son was angry at “Left-wing politicians” and upset by “the way Congress was railroading through all these Left-wing agenda items.”

    July 26, 2010—A proposed ordinance that would prohibit residents from firing air rifles and other low-powered weapons within 500 feet of a building (unless fired in a target range) is pulled from consideration in Exeter Township, Pennsylvania, after the Board of Supervisors receives a number of angry and threatening phone calls from gun owners. Citing a National Rifle Association “Action Alert” that claimed Exeter supervisors were “consider[ing] a broad and overreaching attack on our Second Amendment freedoms,” Exeter Township Police Chief Christopher Neidert says, “This was totally false information that was put out. The anger was building, and I was concerned that someone might actually get hurt.”

    July 30, 2010—Camp Hill prison guard Raymond Peake, 64, is charged with robbery and the murder of Todd Getgen. Peake allegedly shot Getgen to death at a local shooting range and stole Getgen’s custom, silenced AR-15 rifle. Investigators follow Peake to a storage unit when they find three firearms: Getgen’s AR-15 rifle, a scoped Remington rifle that had been reported stolen from the range in May, and a second AR-15 rifle. Thomas Tuso is also arrested and charged with conspiracy, receiving stolen property and other crimes. Peake tells police that he and Tuso had been stealing guns “for the purpose of overthrowing the federal government.”

    August 14, 2010—Former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack—who gained fame in anti-government circles by joining a mid-1990s lawsuit against the federal government over the Brady Bill requirement that state law enforcement agencies conduct background checks on gun purchasers—tells those in attendance at the American Policy Center’s 2010 Freedom Action Natonal Conference, “My dear friends, I pray for the day that the first sheriff in this country is the one to fire the shot heard ’round the world and take out some IRS agents!”

    August 17, 2010—Patrick Gray Sharp, 29, opens fire on the Department of Public Safety in McKinney, Texas, and unsuccessfully attempts to ignite gasoline and ammonium nitrate in a trailer hitched to his truck. Sharp is armed with an assault rifle, a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, and a 12-gauge shotgun. He is killed after an exchange of gunfire with police arriving on the scene. Miraculously, no one else is hurt. Sharp’s roommate, Eric McClellan describes him as “a great guy” and states, “We’re Texans. We have a right to bear arms.”

    August 23, 2010—Thomas Pidgeon is arrested after he attempts to bring a fully loaded .45-caliber handgun into a Cook County courthouse. Pidegon was supposed to attend a foreclosure hearing that day. His home was to be sold to a lender in North Carolina after New York-based BNY Mellon filed an action against him in the county.

    September 1, 2010—James Jay Lee, 43, takes hostages at the Discovery Communications building in Silver Spring, Maryland, while armed with two starter pistols and four improvised explosived devices. After pointing a gun at one of the hostages, he is shot and killed by police. Lee, a radical environmental activist, had previously issued 11 demands through a webpage that Discovery was to meet “immediately.” The demands involved the content of programming on the Discovery Channel. Lee had also declared on his MySpace page, “It’s time for REVOLUTION!!!”

    September 16, 2010—Patricia Stoneking, the President of the Kansas State Rifle Association, tells Fox News, “People need to arm themselves, We have the right to put limits on our government, and that’s what [the Second Amendment] does.” Explaining why America’s Founding Fathers drafted the amendment, she says, “They knew government could become tyrannical. We have the right to defend ourselves from a rogue government.”

    September 30, 2010—Kevin Terrell, a self-described “colonel” who founded a group of “freedom fighters” in Kentucky, predicts war with “the jackbooted thugs” of Washington within a year. Referring to the arrest of Hutaree militia members earlier in the year, Terrell says, “There was a lot of citizens out there in the bushes, locked and loaded. It’s only due to miracles I do not understand that civil war did not break out right there.”

    September 30, 2010—Steve Kendley, a deputy sheriff running for sheriff in Lake County, Montana, threatens “a violent conflict” with federal agents if “they are doing something I believe is unconstitutional.”

    October 15, 2010—Conservative radio show host Glenn Beck lays out a hypothetical scenario on the air where the government is considering taking his children because he refused to have them receive a mandatory flu vaccine. Beck tells his audience that his response to the government would be “Meet Mr. Smith and Mr. Wesson.”

    October 21, 2010—Pastor Stephen Broden, the Republican candidate for U.S. Representative in Texas’ 30th Congressional District, tells WFAA-TV in Dallas that the violent overthrow of the government is an “option” that remains “on the table.” “Our nation was founded on violence,” states Broden. “I don’t think that we should ever remove anything from the table as it relates to our liberties and our freedoms.”

    October 22, 2010—Texas Department of Corrections officers searching for a missing person, Gill Clements, 69, are confronted by a neighbor while on Clements’ property in Henderson County. Howard Tod Granger, 46, points an AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifle at one of the officers, who recalls, “He told us to get off the property or he would kill us all.” Later that afternoon, officers return to Granger’s home with a search warrant and an armored vehicle filled with 13 SWAT members. Granger opens fire on the vehicle, discharging at least 30 rounds before authorities shoot and kill him. Police find guns and “many rounds of ammunition” in Granger’s house. They also find the body of Clements, buried in a shallow grave on Granger’s property.

    November 3, 2010—James Patock, 66, of Pima County, Arizona, is arrested on the National Mall in the District of Columbia after law enforcement authorities find a .223 caliber rifle, a .243 caliber rifle barrel, a .22 caliber rifle, a .357 caliber pistol, several boxes of ammunition, and propane tanks wired to four car batteries in his truck and trailer. Patock former neighbor in Arizona reported that, “He hated the president. He hated everything. He said if he got a chance he would shoot the president.” Patock tells authorities he is a member of the National Rifle Association.

    November 4, 2010—On his radio show, conservative host Glenn Beck fantasizes about President Obama being decapitated during a trip to India, saying, “If anybody thinks he was a Muslim over here, well God forbid, they think he was a Muslim over there because he left his religion for Christianity, death sentence, behead him.” Beck then tells his listeners that “God forbid” this should happen, as there would be a “New World Order” overnight in the United States.

    November 4, 2010—Fox News host Bill O’Reilly fantasizes about killing a Washington Post reporter while on the air, saying, “Does sharia law say we can behead Dana Milbank?” O’Reilly also tells co-host Megyn Kelly, “I think you and I should go and beat him up.”

    November 10, 2010—Public schools in Broward County, Florida, go into lockdown after an email threat is received by WFTL 850 AM. The email is sent to conservative radio host Joyce Kaufman in response to remarks she made at a Tea Party event in July (“If ballots don’t work, bullets will”). The email expresses support for her view of the Second Amendment and says that to further “their cause…something big will happen at a government building in Broward County, maybe a post office maybe even a school.” A phone call is then received at the station, allegedly from the emailer’s wife, warning that he is preparing to go to a Pembroke Pines school and open fire.

    November 23, 2010—Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America, writes an editorial in The Register Citizen in which he calls for state and county sheriffs to organize large, armed “posses” as “a check on the unconstitutional exercise of federal power.”

    November 29, 2010—U.S. Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, circulates a PowerPoint presentation to his colleagues in which he compares the Obama administration to the Nazi regime in Germany and likens himself to Gen. George Patton, bragging, “Put anything in my scope and I will shoot it.”

    ********** followed by event under consideration ******************

    January 8, 2011—Jared Lee Loughner, 22, shoots U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and 19 others at a “Congress in Your Corner” event at a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona. He kills six, including federal judge John Roll, and wounds 14, including Giffords, who is shot in the head. Loughner has an extensive history of mental illness, yet is able to purchase two handguns and a high-capacity ammunition magazine legally at Sportsman’s Warehouse on November 30, 2010. In a YouTube video posted in December 2010, Loughner states, “You don’t have to accept the federalist laws … Nonetheless, read the United States of America’s Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws.”

    (*Thanks to tommybones of this forum for the list *)

  • ompus

    Please consider refraining from any further insightful, reasoned and inclusive posts such as the one above.

    I’ve never liked you and I deeply dislike changing my opinion.

  • FrankB

    The issue is violence. The issue is not “mental illness”. Barack Obama, and anybody else for that matter, should not use the Arizona tragedy as an excuse to scapegoat people labeled “mentally ill”. The problem with saying we should “enhance the power to commit the dangerously mentally ill” is that a “danger to self and others” is already the criteria for civil commitment, and that didn’t stop Jared Lee Loughner. Jared was not caught before he committed the crime. He would have been given a “mental illness” label if he had been. Mental health law is just pre-crime law. When you broaden the criteria for civil commitment, all that you are really doing is taking the civil liberties of more people away from them. Most of those people are not in the slightest bit violent people. This may have something to do with the current epidemic of “mental illness” labeling that we are experiencing in this nation, and the world, but it has little to do with limiting the amount of violence in this country. What this approach forgets is that people labeled “mentally ill” are members of the public, citizens of the USA, and human beings. We should condone violence and injustices perpetuated against them, too. We shouldn’t be punishing innocent people by throwing them to the mental health/illness system in this country. Instead we should be doing something about the amount of violence taking place in our communities and neighborhoods. Jared Loughner has not been trying to get out of responsibility for his actions by using the “mental illness” excuse. Why should we be trying to get Jared Loughner off by giving him that excuse to use? I don’t think of Mr. Loughner as a person who cannot speak up for himself.

  • habsfan

    I guess I was on the right path. No partisanship, bring everyone together and stand above the fray. Leadership.