On the tragedy in Tuscon

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While this doesn’t relate directly to our work here pushing for more transparency in government, it feels a little weird to start off this week without mentioning the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of six people at a citizen outreach meeting she was holding in Tuscon, Arizona.

Giffords was shot while holding an event to help her constituents get the basic services that a congressperson can provide. Those in attendance were there to take advantage of the direct and open access to their district representative. Both of these actions are fundamental acts of democracy. The attack on this event was an attack on the open system of government that we are so lucky to have. As Speaker John Boehner said, “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.”

Many have focused their attention on the level of vitriol in our political discourse as of late. Here at the Sunlight Foundation blog we have always had the policy of deleting comments that called for the killing, specifically or wholesale, of members of Congress or their staff. Whatever your position on whether political language with violent inflections is tolerable, I’m sure we can agree that literal calls for congressmen to hang or burn or be shot are unacceptable.

On a more personal level, this whole event reminded me of the 1990s when my parents were regular fixtures in news stories. There was a period where neither of my parents would answer the phone because of the stream of nasty calls, which sometimes came with the threat of violence or death. The task of answering the phone to screen calls fell to me. These kind of casual threats, even if they aren’t actually serious, are terrifying. Being a public figure often leads to people who are somewhat or entirely unhinged becoming fixated on you. From public statements we all know that Giffords was worried by threats against her.

Finally, I know we spend a lot of time on this blog discussing problems in government, lack of transparency and too much outside influence. While there may be problems that we would like to see addressed, the government is filled with dedicated public servants who work selflessly for little money, or smaller wages than they could earn otherwise, to make our government function.

The President has called for a moment of silence at 11 am to remember the victims of the shooting.

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