“While violence can destroy power, it can never become a substitute for it”

8 01 2011

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, was shot at point-blank range today.

She is in critical condition; according to press reports, 18 people were injured and as many as six were killed.

This is very bad news.

Every shooting is very bad news, of course, as is every murder. But political murder in a representative system carries another meaning, one which states that, in effect, the will of the people does not matter.

There’s a lot to criticize in the notion of “the will of the people”, and a lot to question in our version of representative democracy; nonetheless, it’s what we’ve got and it’s how we confer at least a bare legitimacy on our system of governance. We don’t have to like it, of course, and so we bitch and we organize and we try to sway our fellow citizens and our members of Congress to change.

This means we’re always failing: If Dems win, GOPers lose, and vice versa. Those who want change battle those content with the status quo. There may be some win-win or lose-lose situations, but in a pluralist democracy, you don’t always get your way.

To be political is to reconcile oneself to failure—without giving up.

Political assassins will not so reconcile themselves. Whatever their motivations, whatever their goals, they cannot accept that they lose, cannot accept that others may legitimately win. And so they seek to destroy the adversary’s victory, destroy that legitimacy, and, symbolically, to destroy not only those others, but everyone who allowed the victor to take power.

In so doing, the assassin acts against us all: as citizens, as participants in the political process, as those who, whatever our misgivings, in the end accept a flawed and frayed system of governance over the alternatives of purges and violence, who in the end accept the ballot over the bullet.

What we’ve got is not the best, but is what we’ve  got, it is ours—assassins be damned.