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BOTH SIDES NOW: Reacting to Bomb and Gun Violence

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Reagan and Clarke share their reactions in personally terrorizing situations -- Ron after his father was shot, Torie at the Pentagon on 9/11 -- and how public officials should respond to violence. Good: "stay calm and carry on" like Deval. Bad: overreact w/ Iraq & torture. Ugly: vote for gun deaths.


As Ron Reagan and Torie Clarke discuss bombs, guns, drugs and baseball, art imitates life as four films open depicting how public officials respond to violence and threats: Robert Redford's The Company We Keep tells the story of domestic terrorists (of the Weathermen not Chechnyan variety); Eugene Jarecki's The House I Live In helps us understand why America is going to pot; David Guggenheim's The Dream is Now portrays younger Latinos hoping Immigration Reform precedes the knock of deportation officers; and 42 dramatizes restraint defeating hate.

On Terrorism in Boston. As officials respond to the aftermath of the Boston Marathon attack, Ron and Torie describe their own personal reactions to public violence. "I was having lunch while touring with the Joffrey Ballet when the Secret Service informed me that shots had been directed at my father," said Ron about that day in March, 1981. "I chartered a Lear Jet and I got back to Washington in time to greet my father emerging from surgery... If I had gotten my hands on John Hinckley around that time, I would have beaten him to death... but my father is less excitable and more forgiving and in fact shortly after did forgive Hinckley because he assumed that the shooter was deranged and that people should focus on the victims."

Torie was in the inner ring of the Pentagon at 9:37 am, September 11, when she heard what she initially thought was a car bomb and "felt the building move. Because we had jobs to do locating aircraft and responding to the attack in New York [51 minutes earlier], we didn't just sit back and wonder 'oh my god.' We didn't evacuate because Rumsfeld said that while we had secure communications with the president and military in our offices, we wouldn't have that assurance in another location. The Pentagon never stopped operating."

We then listen to Gov. Deval Patrick's reassuring words and the more chesty response of a Boston Globe columnist ("Boston believes in three things, politics, sports and revenge.") Torie thinks that Patrick got it exactly right as he continued to speak to the resilience of Boston and the country just when people's sense of personal security was shaken or shattered..."like the way people soon began to sign up for next year's Marathon." She worries that the 'revenge' talk especially by pubic officials like Rep. Peter King "can lead people to get emotionally overwrought and do things they'll regret."

Ron agrees and contrasts the Governor with Bush 43 who, in a far worse calamity, "did exactly the wrong thing. He panicked and led us into the war in Iraq. We need courage from leaders when people around him are urging revenge. We need to find out the facts about who's responsible and then act decisively and responsibly. We can't go off half-cocked."

Torie speculates that it shouldn't but probably would matter if the perpetrators turn out to be more like Major Hasan of Fort Hood than a Timothy McVeigh type. (The show is taped the day before the two Tsarnaev brothers are exposed as the leading suspects.)

Host: The low-key governor of Massachusetts got national came by his resolute performance during a police emergency. We refer of course to Calvin Coolidge during the Boston police strike of 1919 who then become President four years later. Yes, it's offensively early to consider any political impact of the bombing and manhunt but Gov. Patrick's calm, confidant grace under the media spotlight is the first -- and probably a lasting -- impression of him for most Americans. He was less flamboyant than Rudy, more thoughtful than George, and seems to have avoided blunders or panic. Hmmm -- and he went to Harvard Law School, gave a wow-2012 Democratic Convention speech and is an FOB.

On Torture in War. Speaking of how to respond to a national security threat, this week also saw the release of a 500 page, bi-partisan report from The Constitution Project led by former congressmen Asa Hutchinson and James Jones. Their conclusions: it was "indisputable" that the Bush administration engaged in torture which produced no useful intelligence, further endangered our troops abroad and could recur since the issue has neither been discussed nor resolved. At the same time, several dozen Gitmo prisoners are currently on a hunger strike over their allegedly deplorable conditions.

While President Obama at the start of his first term ruled out any Commission or prosecutions which would "look backward, not forward", should he respond now in light of this damning investigation? Could he create a commission near the end of his second term to report back after the next presidential election? Torie responds with surprise that "the Left has let him get away with not closing Gitmo [Congress forbade it]...but looking forward, leading countries should get together to consider how to apply rules about torture in 21st century asymmetrical warfare."

"We don't need another Commission for that," says an indignant Ron. "It's not hard, although people like Dick Cheney seem proud of what they did. My father signed the U.N. Convention against torture and was right to... We shouldn't torture or humiliate anyone after they've been captured."

On gun votes -- or when Gary Cooper gets shot in the Senate version of High Noon. After the Manchin-Toomey background check bill failed by a majority of 55-45 in favor (including Reid) - and after the woman who stopped the Tucson shooter memorably shouted "Shame on you!" from the Senate galleries -- we listen to an equally infuriated President call out the NRA for "lying" about a gun registry and senators for opposing it for no "coherent reason other than politics." When has this or any president ever been so not above-the-fray by personally naming names after a legislative defeat?

Torie agrees that it was unusual if not unprecedented but "it was too little, too late. Why wasn't he working the Hill harder in the past three weeks? Why didn't he talk about what his Democratic White House could have done better? The responsibility starts with him."

Ron, however, agrees with Obama's spot-on analysis: if 90 perent want this response to the horror of Sandy Hook and 90% of the GOP says no while 90 percent of Democrats say yes, Obama should denounce those who in effect encourage other massacres and spur bill supporters to fight back.

Was this loss a knockout or just a knockdown? What must change for even this modest bill to go from 55 to 60 in the Senate -- and then pass the House?... Quien sabe? Might this failure provoke a grassroots national movement for gun safety run by Newtown parents, backed by Gabby Giffords, supported by OFA and funded by Bloomberg...might Harry Reid finally try to change the filibuster rule in January of 2015...might several pro-NRA apologists lose in some swing districts or states or even enough for the GOP to lose their House majority...might a couple of re-elected red-state Democrats win and feel more secure to switch... or might a president display more bully than pulpit in Year Seven and find a few more votes, especially since a president usually has one or two votes in his pocket if the tally can get to 58?

Or what if, god forbid, there's another incident(s)? Since 90 percent of Americans usually get what they want in a democracy -- and if the country rallied when three were killed in Boston as opposed to 30,000 gun deaths annually -- on this issue no one's smart enough to be a pessimist.

On Immigration Reform. Torie and Ron agree with the Gang of Eight's bi-partisan bill for immigration reform. But will it too fall to extremists posing as patriots?

Torie believes that some version -- with more secure borders, a path to citizenship, an e-verify system for employers -- will pass this year.

Both panelists are optimistic because there's no anti-immigrant NRA (though right-wing radio-talkers can inflame nativists), no gun companies with money to burn, no united GOP but a split one (Rubio/McCain v. Cruz/Sessions), no Second Amendment to wave as a bloody shirt to pretend that it forbids any immigration reform. And unlike Manchin-Toomey, which may or may not cost the GOP seats in 2014, everyone agrees that if that doesn't make the immigration issue go away, they can't win the presidency in future years if they lose the growing Hispanic vote again by 3-1 or worse.

Ron also reminds wavering Republicans to recall that POTUS 40 said on signing immigration reform in 1986, "I believe in amnesty for those who have put down roots here even though they may have originally come here illegally."

On Marijuana Legalization. Speaking again of polls, Pew for the first time saw a 52 percent majority -- and growing -- for marijuana legalization because, to quote Willie Nelson, "weed can't hurt you unless a bale of it falls on your head." Indeed, referenda to do this passed in Washington and Colorado. Another consensus alert: Ron and Torey agree that as millennials age out of their 20s, the state law of Washington is a better predictor than federal law in Washington, D.C. And during an era of tight budgets, a $20 billion savings (in taxes generated and prosecutions averted) has bi-partisan appeal.

On 42. The movie gets two-thumbs up, as Ms. Clarke lauds any effort to help reduce the "fault line of race" in America. Mr. Reagan speculates what gay athlete will be the Jackie Robinson of sexual orientation (which didn't take long since the next day Baylor basketball superstar Brittney Griner did just that). Then casting director Clarke adds that Harrison Ford was distracting in the film. Too hot? Miscast? Mysteriously, she doesn't say.

Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now.

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