The Giffords shooting, sensitively as well as artfully handled by a President hell-bent on achieving consensus and fostering bipartisanship since he was elected (better, since he was a teenager), is starting to look like a game changer. If the empty chair left open for Giffords during the SOTU was the most poignant and dramatic evidence of this, the fact members of opposite parties chose to sit together tonight not only guaranteed the elimination of inter-party tension but changed the entire spirit and tone of this annual ritual. (If you’d care to compare with our SOTU ’10 offering, look here and here.)
Most dramatically, we see the shift symbolized in this photo of Joe “You Lie” Wilson who sat with Representative Susan Davis (D – Ca) tonight, here smiling and waving. In my mind, the image — in radical contrast to Wilson’s scary outburst two years ago interrupting Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress — speaks to a neutered GOP rebellion.
And then, we see some political dividends of the shift it in this “Kumbaya chorus.” The combination of the Giffords trauma, the Republicans in the House being put in a governing position, and Obama’s post-Rahm, post-shellack recalibration shifting further to the middle-right, seems to have resulted in a dramatic rewiring of the D.C. affect.
By the way, the members of Congress actually seemed thrilled and relieved to drop the hostility. It was felt “more grown up,” said Barbara Boxer.
(photo: Jim Young/Reuters. caption: A seat sits empty for recovering Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) while U.S. President Barack Obama (not pictured) delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 25, 2011. Giffords remains in a Texas hospital recovering from being shot during an event in Tucson, Arizona. photo 2: Jim Young/Reuters. caption: Republican Rep. Joe Wilson (top) of South Carolina and Democratic Rep. Susan Davis of California wave as they take their seats together on the same side of the aisle as legislators from both parties break with the tradition of sitting on opposite sides of the aisle for U.S. President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 25, 2011. photo 3: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Reuters. caption: Members of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, from left, Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 25, 2011, prior to the start of the president’s State of the Union address.)