More than a year ago former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi generated headlines due to a rare public display of raw emotion. She became visibly choked up while voicing concern that the increasingly heated rhetoric permeating our political discourse at the height of the health care debate could soon turn violent; something she had seen firsthand years before with the 1978 shooting of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, one of the nation's first openly gay elected officials. (Click here to see some of the public servants we have lost in the line of duty.)
There were plenty of those who at the time thought Pelosi was being paranoid or dramatic. Today of course her words seem sadly prescient. Around that time I wrote a post titled "Why I'm Grateful for Joe Wilson and the Fury of Racists." To the surprise of many, in it I expressed optimism with the direction our country was heading, despite agreeing with Pelosi that the vitriolic tone hijacking our political discourse was coming close to paralyzing it altogether.
The reason for my optimism? Because as I explained at the time, progress in our great country has always come at a cost and often that cost is that we must experience the anger of those fighting to preserve the past, those for whom progress is a scary thing. As I noted in the post, you can often measure just how close we are to progress based on how hard opponents fight against it. After all, the South became a full-fledged war zone of church bombings and record murders at the height of the Civil Rights Movement as the final vestiges of legalized discrimination were dismantled -- not before. And yet all of that fear and intimidation was not enough to stop progress. The fact that I'm writing this right here and right now is proof of that.
While we do not yet know the motives of the individual responsible for this recent tragedy, in recent days I found myself reflecting on the subject of what we Americans must often endure on the road to progress, the road to helping our country become the very best it can be.
The road to becoming a better America is not always pretty. Throughout our history there has never been a single issue that really mattered in which Americans did not engage in heated rhetoric, which was unfortunately at times followed by violence. From our forefathers' decision to declare independence from our English ancestors, to the fight to end slavery, it is safe to assume that these debates were punctuated by plenty of unpleasant exchanges peppered with name-calling, followed by bloodshed, before people eventually settled their differences, came to their senses, allowing our country to emerge better, stronger and more united than it was before.
In recent years we've covered the name-calling and bloodshed. Now here's hoping and praying we all come to our senses so that our country can emerge better, stronger and more united than it was before this weekend's tragedy.
Like all of you I remain shaken, sad, and yes angry, yet I continue to remain optimistic about the future of our country and hope you will too. We have already seen some reasons to remain hopeful. Namely, that for the first time in a long time we have seen the leaders of both of the primary political parties in this country act and sound like leaders again, not like the playground adversaries they have sounded like for much of the last few years.
So today as we continue to mourn the lives lost and continue to pray for the recovery of Congresswoman Giffords and others, my hope is that one day we will be able to look back on this moment as a turning point for our country. As the moment when after a few years of heated rhetoric, we finally started working together again in the interest of progress for all.
This post originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.
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