As many pondered the cause of the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by a lone gunman, UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau sought to derive a broader meaning from what he believed to be a volatile political environment, and wondered how the same climate would affect the struggles of illegal immigrants.
“A climate in which demonization of others goes unchallenged and hateful speech is tolerated can lead to such a tragedy. I believe that it is not a coincidence that this calamity has occurred in a state which has legislated discrimination against undocumented persons. This same mean-spirited xenophobia played a major role in the defeat of the Dream Act by legislators in Washington, leaving many exceptionally talented and deserving young people, including our own undocumented students, painfully in limbo with regard to their futures in this country,” the Chancellor said in a statement in which he also clarified that the act of gunman Jared Loughner came from “a mind that is profoundly disturbed.”
Even with the clarification that the Arizona tragedy came from a mind out of the mainstream, there really is no easy way to get around the politics of the Chancellor’s statement and the fact that it blames the right side of the political spectrum. Without even a glimmer of the actual facts coming out regarding the shooter, whether Loughner was even a devoted Sarah Palin or right wing talk radio follower, the Chancellor made the issue a politically divisive one. Even if he wasn’t intentional about doing so, his words have added to the hasty conclusions that have sadly gone viral over the internet.
The right is by no means exempt from politicizing the situation in Arizona as well. Rush Limbaugh did so when he said that the shooter had the full support of the Democrats or when Palin released a presidential-like video addressing the matter.
Such is the nature of politics whereby individuals seek to capitalize on given situations to keep their political ambitions alive, but that doesn’t mean that immigrants’ rights activists and Independent voters as a whole can’t learn from this situation. Both groups need to step back and examine the events of the past week in an intellectually honest light.
For immigration reform activists, I believe that it’d be best for their movement if they didn’t take the route of Mr. Birgeneau in using the events of this past week to assign blame to the right for the failure of legislation like the Dream Act. The Republican party has taken steps to change the tone of their immigration rhetoric with the snubbing of Rep. Steve King of Iowa for the House Committee on immigration, by appointing a Congressman who will still enforce immigration law with accountability. Even the members of the Republican base have challenged the party to change it’s tone on immigration by not demonizing illegal immigrants, and urging them to welcome legal immigrants with shared values.
For Independents, it’s situations like the rhetorical war of words surrounding Arizona that remind us of the precise reason that we are Independents. We’re not to get caught up in the media talking points of the right or the left. We may be disposed toward one political leaning or the other, but that doesn’t mean that we follow lock step with the script that each side uses to gain a political advantage over their opponents.
Independents should instead follow the political mindset of Rep. Giffords. Based on her centrist voting record, she wasn’t a yes-woman with either political party; rather, she was a centrist who looked at political ramifications of legislation through what she saw as the most rational and the most representative of her constituents.