There may be nothing as vile in American politics as soaking up all the grief and suffering of a mass murder and wringing it out over the heads of your political opponents.
It gets worse when at least 19 of the victims are small children, whose deaths you expressly blame on your rivals.
There’s an old name for this kind of politics that traces back to Reconstruction:
“Waving the bloody shirt.”
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., figuratively waved the blood-soaked shirts of the Texas elementary school dead at U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and blamed him, not the gunman, for the massacre.
Rep. Gallego goes scorched earth on Ted Cruz
This began when a CNN correspondent tweeted out a Cruz quote:
“Inevitably when there’s a murderer of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it, you see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
It was a crass comment by Cruz at a time when he and everyone else should have canned the politics. It was callous and cold and mean.
For Gallego, it was license to go scorched earth.
“F--- you @tedcruz you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered,” Gallego tweeted. “Just get your ass to Cancun. You are useless.”
He followed up with: “Just to be clear f--- you @tedcruz you f---ing baby killer.”
Gallego also hurled F-bombs at the gun lobby and at California U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa:
“F--- your prayers. They haven’t worked for the last 20 mass shootings / how about passing laws that will stop these killings.”
I guess anyone is free to lose their cool in a crisis, but it’s malpractice when a congressman becomes the screaming banshee. Gallego signed up for leadership. He’s supposed to keep his nerve when others lose theirs.
In these times there are no consequences
Many on social media applauded his crude comebacks, only because they’re as clueless as he. But don’t be deluded. Gallego was an arsonist on Tuesday, damaging his own institution and diminishing himself. In normal times his Democratic colleagues might have called him to account.
But these are not normal times, and we are way past the point when vandalizing American institutions matters.
Another view: After Uvalde, you know what will change? Nothing
In years past a Republican congressman might scream, “You lie!” to President Barack Obama, and GOP leaders like John McCain would clap him back so hard he would stick to the back bench.
Nancy Pelosi once did this to AOC when her staff accused moderate Democrats of being white supremacists. The pushback was so strong, AOC was forced to fire her chief of staff.
Those days are gone.
Gallego was a strutting peacock on Tuesday, throwing flame at his political opponents and pleasing the liberal throng that follows him.
Never let a mass shooting go to waste?
But I wonder how this will trail him should he ever run on a statewide ballot.
There has long been talk he might challenge Kyrsten Sinema for her Senate seat in 2024. Sinema infuriated Democrats when she refused to bend to the party establishment, jettison the legislative filibuster and pass trillions in new spending. Gallego has taken to trashing Sinema in national interviews. “She’s all about herself,” he told Politico.
On Tuesday, Sinema expressed her shock at the shooting. “We are horrified and heartbroken by the senseless tragedy unfolding at Robb Elementary School in Texas and grateful to the first responders for acting swiftly,” she tweeted. “No families should ever have to fear violence in their children’s schools.”
Gallego shot back, “Please just stop ... unless you are willing to break the filibuster to actually pass sensible gun control measures you might as well just say ‘thoughts and prayers’ ”.
If ever a tweet was self-serving and gratuitous, here it was. Gallego seemed to be operating on the theory that you must never let a gun massacre go to waste.
Gallego proves he doesn't get the gun problem
Further, he proved through his juvenile antics that he doesn’t understand the gun problem. Rampage shooting represents about 1% of America’s gun violence. The greater part of gun homicide in America is happening daily in our urban centers and near beyond.
Every day roughly 96 Americans die by firearms, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. If Gallego is going to shriek and carpet bomb social media every time gun violence erupts in this country, he should have started long ago and kept up with it every day. Because every day is gun carnage day in America.
“The vast majority of persistent, ongoing gun violence goes unreported by residents who live in communities that are often poor and under-served by police,” The Atlantic magazine reported in 2018.
Ralph A. Clark, president and CEO of ShotSpotter, “a company whose technology uses sensors to identify the sound of a gun being fired,” told The Atlantic, “Eighty to 90 percent of the time a gun is fired, there’s no call to 911, which means there’s no police response, which means that gun violence becomes normalized in these communities.”
What is he going to do about daily gun violence?
Forget about Ted Cruz and Kyrsten Sinema, what is Ruben Gallego doing about the real problem – the daily gun violence in America?
Or does he only come unglued when the body count makes news?
America is awash in an estimated 400-million guns. A great chunk of those are stolen and not subject to any laws. You could pass new laws every day for an entire year and not make a dent in America’s gun violence. We are looking at a dilemma that was decades in the making and will require a generation to solve.
Waving the bloody shirt only makes Gallego look more cold, more callous and meaner than Ted Cruz.
Let him wear it to his next election.
Phil Boas is an editorial columnist for The Arizona Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Rep. Ruben Gallego will wear those crass tweets about Texas shooting