With the party congratulating itself for programming Gabby Giffords’ final convention night recitation of the pledge of allegiance, and so many news outlets having extolled Gabby’s proud but not exactly fluid or easy rendition as a brilliant Hallmark moment, it’s worth stepping back and taking a closer look at what this scene was all about. Specifically, the question that bears asking is: how could this striking cameo occur (especially with the giant flag on the video screen also setting up patriotic associations to Giffords) without any heed to the political issue underlying her maiming?
Yes, there was language in the DNC platform about banning assault weapons and requiring background checks on all gun sellers, as well as a call for “an open conversation about firearms.” Still, the tepidness of the party on the issue of gun control couldn’t be more obvious the way the subject failed to come up in all the prominent speeches.
The point is, Giffords appearance on Thursday night could easily have been a “profile in courage” moment as well as a near unassailable public statement about gun violence. If you look at the DNC video of the Giffords appearance, as well as the cross section of photos that primarily crossed the newswire, however, you’ll notice that Giffords’ physical condition was minimized, Gabby captured instead looking as much like her old self as you could imagine. As a striking emotional moment in the convention hall, what the media chose to communicate was the groundswell of sympathy for Giffords as a hearty survivor.
What the prominent wire photos and the DNC video de-emphasize, however, is the shock and grief in so many faces as the audience encountered Giffords and the physical evidence of how debilitated Gabby remains.
If you watch an unedited version, you can see the stress and concern on the face of Democratic Chairperson and good friend of Giffords, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, guiding Gabby on stage before the pledge starts and hopeful that Giffords can do the job. Also, you’ll notice in the shot below how Giffords has to hold her arm to prevent it from waving given the neurological damage.
All in all, it went by pretty fast, fast enough for tears, but not enough time to understand that this episode ran a lot deeper than simply inspiration.
With the unconscionably easy access to high power weapons, the deeply ingrained glorification of violence in American society (demonstrated at the convention by the repeated USA chants and the blood lust over the killing of bin Laden (about which, Glenn Greenwald’s piece is a must read) and, along with that, the deeply troubling and terrifying string of mass shootings this summer, the fact Gabby Giffords brave appearance at the DNC proved to singularly serve as political theater and a feel good moment at the expense of any framing of what befell her, is (for a party in need of more backbone) all too easy to believe.
(screen shots: WSJ DNC video. photo 3: Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters caption: An Ohio delegate weeps after former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords walked onstage to lead the convention in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina September 6, 2012.)