01.11.11

Senator Leahy Addresses The Tragedy In Tucson

On Tuesday, January 11, Senator Leahy delivered a speech outlining his agenda for the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 112th Congress. Before he began detailing the work he hopes to accomplish in the coming years, he paused to address the tragic attack in Tucson, Arizona.

Following are Senator Leahy's remarks, as prepared, on the incident.

The tragic events of this past weekend call us to pause and reflect on the promise of democracy and our responsibilities as its beneficiaries and stewards.

As we entered this beautiful building today, many of us passed by these concise, magnificent words – the First Amendment -- carved in marble on the Newseum’s Pennsylvania Avenue facade, 74 feet high:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The day before she was felled in the attack in Tucson, Congresswoman Giffords was the member of the House of Representatives whose role it had been to recite those words on the House Floor.

In a free society – the society we always want America to be – government should not and must not restrain free expression.  But with freedom come responsibilities.  The full flowering of democracy and freedom relies on the self restraint of each citizen, organization and group of citizens.  The printed page, the radio microphone, the televised image, the TV ad, the blog posting and the Twitter feed all have the power to inspire, to motivate and to inform.  They also have the power to inflame and incite.

The seething rhetoric has gone too far.  The demonizing of opponents, of government and of public service has gone too far.  Our politics have become incendiary and we all share the responsibility for lowering the temperature.  That is the responsibility we all have to keep our democracy strong and thriving.

The 535 members of the House and Senate have been elected to represent more than 300 million Americans.  We have responsibilities within our borders, as well as responsibilities outside our borders, as our nation charts its way in a complex and often dangerous world.  It is time to stop the polarizing symbolism and instead to work together on the substance of the many challenges we face as a nation.  Otherwise, our country – a blessed, beautiful and expansive nation that survived a revolutionary war, a civil war, and two world wars -- faces decline.  I cannot accept that, and neither should any of us.

The Pima County Sheriff was an Everyman of this tragic moment when he movingly called for soul-searching by each of us.  We need to work together for the good of the country and the American people.  After Oklahoma City and the attacks of 9/11, we came together.  And so, now, do we again need to come together.

This tragedy should summon us to meet the challenges we face not with emphasis on the issues that divide us, but on common ground that can unite us.  It is easy to appeal to resentment, distrust, selfishness and hate.  Leaders should appeal instead to our better angels.  And when common ground remains elusive, we must respect the rights of others to hold and express their own views and beliefs.  

One more thing:  We must not allow any assault on representative democracy to succeed in thwarting or muting citizens’ access to their elected representatives.

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