I met Gabby Giffords six and a half years ago. Oddly enough, it was in Switzerland (we were both on "Young Leaders" program).
Mostly I remember her being nice and friendly to everyone in a group full of folks with strong political views. I also remember a lunch in the mountains, when she and I sat across from one another and argued immigration. It got a bit heated, but never unfriendly. The argument also may have been productive, as our views have since met in the middle. I am much less restrictionist than I was then, and she is more so.
Since Switzerland, we've spoken maybe two or three times. She called me to tell me about her engagement to an astronaut and to congratulate me on my first book. She once asked me for a contribution.
When I learned of the shooting Saturday, I thought of her first as the person I drank with and sparred with in the Alps. Second, I thought of her as a politician. As stories trickled in about her husband's fear and anger, and her father's, she became more of a real person to me.
When we're covering politics, it's easy to forget that politicians are real people with real lives. I've referred to politicians as "attack dogs" and otherwise dehumanized them at times. Today, I regret that -- not because it has any causal connection to violence (as I said yesterday, the political debate Loughner was listening to was seemingly in his own head) -- but because today I am reminded of the obvious fact that all politicians are people.
We shouldn't treat people as objects. It's bad for our politics, and it's bad for our souls.
I can understand why Giffords' father and husband would lash out at her political enemies. As a politician, she was on the receiving end of nasty dehumanizing attacks. I'm sure everyone who has ever held office has experienced that. Throw in her district being so competitive, her being a woman, and the prominence of immigration as an issue, and she probably got it more than most members.
Her father and husband surely witnessed savage criticism of this woman they loved, and worse, they know that the children saw nasty things said about their step-mother. Then this horrible thing happened to her. As she bled, her humanness was now on full, awful display.
I maintain that it's a baseless slur to claim any political rhetoric contributed in any way to Saturday's shooting. I still believe that there's nothing anyone could have said differently that would have made the shooting less likely. But, I'll step back a bit from my comments yesterday, especially the headline. I'll say this about rhetoric: Let's take this as a reminder that politicians and the journalists we argue against are people, and let's treat them that way.
Of course politicians -- and everyone with power -- need to be criticized, and often harshly. But when we go on the proverbial attack, let us follow the advice of my former Examiner colleague Bill Myers: "go for the ball, not the man."
And for now, if you ever pray, pray for all those killed, their families, and for Gabby.