The shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

America reacts.

Gabrielle Giffords, a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives from Arizona, was shot and critically wounded yesterday in an attack in Tucson that left six others dead and 12 injured. The gunman, a 22-year-old man named Jared Lee Loughner, has been been arrested.

President Obama described Giffords as "an extraordinary public servant".

Michael Tomasky, who writes about American politics for the Guardian, issued what he called a "bs alert" last night. He reminded readers that Giffords's office windows had been broken in the summer of 2009, when the debate over Obama's health-care reforms was at its most virulent. We should keep an eye open therefore, he argued, for:

any signs of coverage that deplores the shooting but says something like, "Of course, there IS a lot of anger out there, so . . ." You won't hear that today. But keep an ear out for it Sunday, and Monday. As if there's a rationale for something like this. Just keep an ear out.

Alex Hannaford, also on the Guardian's website, noted that a comment left on Sarah Palin's Facebook page appeared to confirm Tomasky's worst fears: "This will be another avenue for gun control groups to further their sick agenda." Meteor Blades, writing at the liberal Daily Kos blog, sees Gifford's shooting as the American right's incendiary rhetoric made flesh:

Those whose violent, eliminationist rhetoric has polluted the airwaves and other media for the past couple of decades, ramping itself up a little more each year, especially with the arrival of an African American in the White House, are, of course, denying that the shootings of a congresswoman, a judge, a child and bystanders on a street corner in Arizona have anything to do with their savage words. No surprise. One thing they're good at is refusing to accept any responsibility for the consequences of this murderous talk, whether it's Timothy McVeigh blowing up a federal building or Scott Roeder assassinating a doctor.

Andrew Sullivan live-blogged the reaction to the attempted assassination of Gabrielle Giffords, and observed that much of the language used by the shooter in a video testament posted on YouTube is "like a parody of a Ron Paul supporter".

Meanwhile, the right-wing blogger Glenn Reynolds fulminated against liberals who, he claims, have seen in the shooting an opportunity to save Barack Obama's faltering presidency by "defaming his opposition". Other conservative bloggers and commentators have singled out for particular opprobrium Keith Olbermann, MSNBC's liberal talking head, who took to the screens last night to make what one would have thought was an uncontroversial plea to his fellow Americans to "put the guns down".

You can watch Olbermann's nine-minute comment on the Giffords shooting here:

 

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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We argue over Charlie Gard, but forget those spending whole lives caring for a disabled child

The everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over life and death.

“Sometimes,” says the mother, “I wish we’d let him go. Or that he’d just been allowed to slip away.” The father agrees, sometimes. So too does the child, who is not a child any more.

On good days, nobody thinks this way, but not all days are good. There have been bright spots during the course of the past four decades, occasional moments of real hope, but now everyone is tired, everyone is old and the mundane work of loving takes a ferocious toll.

When we talk about caring for sick children, we usually mean minors. It’s easiest that way. That for some parents, the exhaustion and intensity of those first days with a newborn never, ever ends – that you can be in your fifties, sixties, seventies, caring for a child in their twenties, thirties, forties – is not something the rest of us want to think about.

It’s hard to romanticise devotion strung out over that many hopeless, sleepless nights. Better to imagine the tragic mother holding on to the infant who still fits in her loving arms, not the son who’s now twice her size, himself edging towards middle-age and the cliff edge that comes when mummy’s no longer around.

Writing on the tragic case of Charlie Gard, the Guardian’s Giles Fraser claims that he would “rain fire on the whole world to hold my child for a day longer”. The Gard case, he argues, has “set the cool rational compassion of judicial judgement and clinical expertise against the passion of parental love”: “Which is why those who have never smelled the specific perfume of Charlie’s neck, those who have never held him tight or wept and prayed over his welfare, are deemed better placed to determine how he is to live and die.”

This may be true. It may also be true that right now, countless parents who have smelled their own child’s specific perfume, held them tightly, wept for them, loved them beyond all measure, are wishing only for that child’s suffering to end. What of their love? What of their reluctance to set the world aflame for one day more? And what of their need for a life of their own, away from the fantasies of those who’ll passionately defend a parent’s right to keep their child alive but won’t be there at 5am, night after night, cleaning out feeding tubes and mopping up shit?

Parental – in particular, maternal – devotion is seen as an endlessly renewable resource. A real parent never gets tired of loving. A real parent never wonders whether actually, all things considered, it might have caused less suffering for a child never to have been born at all. Such thoughts are impermissible, not least because they’re dangerous. Everyone’s life matters. Nonetheless, there are parents who have these thoughts, not because they don’t love their children, but because they do.

Reporting on the Gard case reminds me of the sanitised image we have of what constitutes the life of a parent of a sick child. It’s impossible not to feel enormous compassion for Charlie’s parents. As the mother of a toddler, I know that in a similar situation I’d have been torn apart. It’s not difficult to look at photos of Charlie and imagine one’s own child in his place. All babies are small and helpless; all babies cry out to be held.

But attitudes change as children get older. In the case of my own family, I noticed a real dropping away of support for my parents and disabled brother as the latter moved into adulthood. There were people who briefly picked him up as a kind of project and then, upon realising that there would be no schmaltzy ending to the story, dropped him again. Love and compassion don’t conquer all, patience runs out and dignity is clearly best respected from a distance.

All too often, the everyday misery of care work is hidden behind abstract arguments over who gets the right to decide whether an individual lives or dies. I don’t know any parents who truly want that right. Not only would it be morally untenable, it’s also a misrepresentation of what their struggles really are and mean.

What many parents who remain lifelong carers need is adequate respite support, a space in which to talk honestly, and the recognition that actually, sometimes loving is a grim and hopeless pursuit. Those who romanticise parental love – who, like Fraser, wallow in heroic portrayals of “battling, devoted parents” – do nothing to alleviate the suffering of those whose love mingles with resentment, exhaustion and sheer loneliness.

There are parents out there who, just occasionally, would be willing to set the world on fire to have a day’s respite from loving. But regardless of whether your child lives or dies, love never ends. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.