Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gabrielle Giffords Bittersweet Farewell at State of the Union

She's like an angel of hope.

At Los Angeles Times, "Gabrielle Giffords makes emotional return to House floor." And at Salt Lake Tribune, "Giffords a reality check in chamber of politics":

Washington - In a bittersweet farewell, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords accepted bags of chocolates and a big presidential hug as she claimed her seat one last time in the House of Representatives Tuesday night.

Giffords, who has regained much of her ability to speak and walk after a gunshot wound to the head Jan. 8, 2011, will leave Congress this week to focus on her recovery. But first, she wanted to attend the State of the Union she was forced to miss last year in the uncertain days after the shooting.

Just before President Barack Obama was to speak at 9 p.m. EST, Giffords quietly entered the chamber under her own power and made her way the few steps to a seat that had been reserved for her. Hug No. 1 came from friend Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida. Giffords’ colleagues stood and gently applauded her.

"Gabby! Gabby!" some of them chanted.

Limping a little, Giffords beamed around the chamber and raised her left hand to wave. Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, approached with two bags of chocolate, which Giffords took, grinning.

She looked to the gallery to wave at her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly. When First Lady Michelle Obama took her seat next to him, she waved, too.

The president himself swooped in with a big bear hug around Giffords’ tiny frame, grinning widely before climbing to the rostrum for the speech.

She has inspired gestures of bipartisanship. Last year in the tender days after the shooting, members of both parties sat together across the chamber, rather than Democrats to the president’s right and Republicans to his left. Many lawmakers did the same this year.

Throughout the speech, Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, sitting at Giffords’ side, repeatedly helped her stand as her fellow Democrats applauded Obama.

Giffords’ presence may be the only element about the event above politics.

Obama used the highest-profile pulpit in the land to reclaim the spotlight from Republicans battling for the right to face him in the general election. He was speaking to a Congress cranky after a year of the most bitter partisan fighting in recent memory and the public’s widespread disapproval.

He’s weaving a narrative about economic fairness and zeroed in on the richest Americans who pay a lower tax rate than those who bring home a regular paycheck. Obama didn’t say it, but Republican hopeful Mitt Romney, a multimillionaire who released his tax return for 2010 and an estimate for 2011, is one of the nation’s wealthiest in this category.

Billionaire Warren Buffett has said it’s unfair that his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does. Emphasizing the point, Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, attended the address in Michelle Obama’s box.
Gabrielle Giffords is a light unto the world of American politics. I hope she's able to return to politics and give the Democrats a lesson in civility when she comes back.

See also: "Obama SOTU Address 'Rejects' Class Warfare in Call for Millionaires to Pay Their Fair Share of Taxes."