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AN AGONIZING AFTERMATH

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords called her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at his home near Houston as she was getting ready to start her Congress on Your Corner event on Saturday, Jan. 8.

"I was a little bit surprised," Kelly says. "She'd just been sworn in, and it didn't take her long before she was going to be out there, letting everybody say what they think."

About a half-hour later, he got a phone call from Pia Carusone, Giffords' chief of staff. Gabby had been shot. Carusone had no other details.

Kelly was in disbelief. He had to check his phone to see if he'd really just received the call.

Once the initial shock wore off, Kelly sprang into action. In less than two hours, he was in a friend's private plane and on his way to Tucson.

Soon enough, he'd learn the other grim details. Six people killed. Thirteen others wounded. And his wife was fighting for her life after being shot once in the head at close range.

Kelly has spent every day since at University Medical Center. For the first five days, he slept there. In recent days, he's been getting to the hospital around 6:30 a.m. and leaving sometime around 9 or 10 at night. In the early morning hours or later at night, he finds some solace by visiting the shrine in front of University Medical Center and feeling the outpouring of love from the Tucson community.

Gabby is communicating to him in simple ways: taking his ring from his finger and putting it on her own, or touching his face, or rubbing his neck.

"She knows it's me," he says. "There are things she does when only I'm sitting there that she used to do all the time."

Kelly says that in recent years, Gabby had worried that the heated talk on the campaign trail could lead to violence.

"She would say, 'I'm a little bit concerned that at some point, someone will shoot me,'" Kelly says. "We talked about it at least a dozen times. We talked about it two weeks ago."

But Gabby wouldn't consider changing her appearances at public events.

"She really feels it's important to let people say to her, face to face, what their concerns are, what they think about the job she's doing," Kelly says. "I go to a lot of those events. People would yell at her, and we'd get in the car, and I'd complain about it, and she'd say, 'Hey, people have the right to tell me what they think.' And that person is her constituent as much as the person who volunteers on her campaign. That's part of democracy. She knew it was part of her job."

Kelly views the recent calls for more civility in politics as "a good idea. People should be able to disagree without getting nasty about it. And in her last campaign, there was a lot of heated discussion that certainly, in my opinion, may have crossed the line."

And there's one thing he wants you to know: We haven't seen the last of Gabrielle Giffords.

"Let me tell you this: She will make a full recovery," Kelly says. "I know her really well, and she is going to come back stronger and more committed than ever. I can almost guarantee you what her first event will be, and I hate saying this, but I'd be shocked if the first thing she does is not Congress on Your Corner at that same Safeway. That's the kind of person she is."


LIVING UP TO EXPECTATIONS

President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Jan. 12, delivered a stirring eulogy for the six lives lost in the shooting rampage on Saturday, Jan. 8.

Obama's speech touched on the sorrow of losing loved ones—and he provided a ray of hope when he said that Giffords' eyes had opened for the first time shortly after he left the hospital.

But it was his call to the better angels of our nature that resonated when he called on everyone to honor the memory of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old Mesa Verde Elementary School student who had just been elected to her student council.

Christina-Taylor, said Obama, "was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

"I want us to live up to her expectations," Obama continued. "I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us—we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."

Obama's heartfelt call to greater civility in politics—to make any debate over the causes of the rampage that tore our community apart "worthy of those we have lost"—touched many hearts across our nation.

For too long, too many debates have been aimed at what will score points among voters, and not at a serious effort to face the real challenges our nation faces as we move into the 21st century.

And for too long, as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik complained in the wake of the rampage, we've been hearing too much blather "about hatred, about mistrust of government, about paranoia about how government operates."

That's not to say that it's not important to keep an eye on government or to be critical of elected officials. It's just to say that when we do play the role of watchdog, we ought to know what we're barking about—and we ought not to be barking up the wrong tree, or just howling at the moon.

Obama's speech was well-received on both the right and the left, at least among the people we've spoken with. More than one person has told us that it was one of the finest political speeches they've ever heard—and some folks, such as pundit Andrew Sullivan, say it transcended politics entirely.

But the evening was not without its critics, many of whom took issue with the other speakers and with a rambunctious crowd that was criticized for cheering too much at a memorial event.

As an audience member, The Skinny can assure those who were upset by the enthusiastic crowd that the cheering began before the event got underway, when the heroes of the day—people like Giffords' intern Daniel Hernandez Jr. (who ignored his own personal safety to provide first aid to the stricken congresswoman) or Dr. Peter Rhee's extraordinary UMC trauma team—appeared on the floor.

Those folks deserved all the cheers they got—and then some.

We know it doesn't fit well with the talk of civility, but here's what we have to say to all those national pundits who were puzzled by our customs or put off by our enthusiasm for the heroes who saved lives on that awful Saturday:

Howzabout you just shut the hell up?


Follow the Skinny scribe on Twitter: @nintzel

More by Jim Nintzel

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