They emerged this week as the most vivid representatives of Obama's new liberal America, as emblematic of the times and what ails us as Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson were America's "terror era" canaries in the coal mine.
In a media age marked by celebrity and plasticity, not just metaphorical but actual, the still-beautiful Gabrielle Giffords "looks a little off" for reasons that pose the most overdue and profound challenge to our culture of vanity. And in the same way that the Obama relationship offers a model, Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly adjust our shallow social frames in still another way. What was once another "Hollywood on the Potomac" dream couple, an up-and-coming young Congresswoman and her proud hero-astronaut, being so much less are suddenly so much more. This week, in the pivot of the 2012 election, they represent values that have been aching to surface in our public sphere: openness in the face of weakness; love, endurance and self-respect in the face of trial and disability. (And even if it only surfaces on television in the most maudlin or chipper of terms, we know how much all of us, in greater and lesser ways, struggle with trial and disability.)
Finally, their emphatic advocacy for controls on weaponry (in that pragmatic, Obama-way) is also indicative of new politics. Simply, it's another counterpoint to the old way and the old era, in which decision leaders, on whatever crucial issue, simply stuck to their guns and buried their heads in the sand.
(Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters caption: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords spoke while seated with her husband, onetime astronaut Mark Kelly, at a hearing held by the Senate Judiciary Committee about guns and violence in Washington Wednesday. She called on lawmakers to act swiftly to curb gun violence.)