Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cycle-logical Violence

In the days leading up to President John Kennedy's fateful trip to Dallas in November, 1963, it would seem that, by today's standards, all the wrong things were done---if you wanted to keep a president alive, that is.

Maps of Kennedy's motorcade route through the city were published on the front page of the local newspapers. The "bubble top" of his limousine was removed, so people could more easily see him---and shoot him.

All this in a part of the country where he wasn't exactly a native son.

Can you imagine such egregious decisions being made today?

Of course not. Today, presidents can bug in and out of town in almost stealth-like fashion, compared to JFK's Texas trip in 1963. Often, news of the president's impending visit doesn't hit the papers until the day before or even the day of the visit. And those stories certainly wouldn't publish the president's planned route from stop to stop.

But it wasn't as if Kennedy's peril didn't have some precedent.

In 1950, Puerto Rican nationalists tried to kill President Truman while he was staying at Blair House, across the street from the White House. And in the 1930s, President Roosevelt was in grave danger in Miami, as his motorcade was shot at, leaving the mayor of Chicago dead.

Presidents McKinley (1901), Garfield (1881), and Lincoln (1865) had been assassinated, so it wasn't like Kennedy's safety should have been considered guaranteed, no matter the missteps.

Since the JFK murder, presidents don't ride in open-roofed cars in motorcades. And newspapers don't publish routes and other information helpful to a would-be assassin.

But you can't protect 100% against crazy.

Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D) is fighting for her life, having been shot in the head by 22-year-old, mentally disturbed Jared Loughner, who killed six and wounded 14. It was at a meet and greet at a Tucson shopping center where the carnage occurred.

In the hours after the shootings, lawmakers were speaking of putting an end to such public gatherings.

I can understand that knee jerk reaction, but it's misguided. How many such occurrences are there every day in this country---where an elected official appears in public to meet constituents?

Multiply that by 365 days in a year, and that's a LOT of appearances by a LOT of electeds.

I'm not downplaying Giffords's shooting---not at all. But let's keep it in context and perspective. The Secret Service can't protect every member of Congress at all times. And even if they could, a wacko like Loughner could still inflict damage.

Loughner seized an oppportunity that any determined nut job with a gun could have seized: a low-profile visit to a shopping center on a Saturday afternoon by the local Congresswoman---with low security and even lower perceived threat.

Loughner got to within three or four feet of Rep. Giffords, according to witnesses. Of course he did---everyone's guard was down.

Sadly, violence against politicians in this country has been on a fairly consistent cycle ever since Lincoln was killed in 1865. You had Garfield 16 years later, McKinley 20 years after that, the attempt on FDR about 30 years after that, the try on Truman 15 years or so after that, the murder of JFK 13 years later, and the killing of Bobby Kennedy less than five years after that.

Then it was Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, gunned down at a Maryland shopping center in 1972 as he ran for president, leaving him wheelchair-bound.


Arthur Bremer is subdued after shooting Alabama Gov. George Wallace at a presidential campaign stop at a Maryland shopping center, May 1972


Two years after Wallace, President Ford's life was in peril---twice within several weeks, both in California, and both by women.

John Hinckley tried to kill President Reagan less than seven years after the Ford attempts.

Now, not quite 30 years after Reagan, here comes Jared Loughner.

The cycle continues.

I'm sure that the Giffords shooting will have lawmakers on edge, at all levels---local, state and federal. That's totally understandable. But the reality is that 100% protection is impossible. All you can do is be on the lookout.

What should give the elected officials more pause is how a mentally ill guy like Jared Loughner came into possession of a firearm in the first place.

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