The recent release of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’s picture—shortly cropped hair, blue wire frames and that million-dollar smile—were inspiring no matter your party affiliation. Her near-miraculous survival of a point-blank shot in the head a mere six months ago, and the media-documented recovery, gave the nation a new hero.
But the media emphasis has been mainly on the positive aspects of her story, while the realities of her circumstance go ignored by those closest to her politically.
Years prior to the shooting, Arizona Democrats had been eyeing Giffords as the favorite represent the party in next year’s race for Jon Kyl’s Senate seat. The plan had potential and, in the eyes of many, it still does. The current chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, Andrei Cherny, said, “All of our hopes and faith were geared towards her.”
There isn’t a close second among Democratic alternatives, and the clock is ticking. The pressure is still on Giffords, and even in the face of the most horrendous events, the show must go on.
Raul Grijalva, the Democratic congressman representing a district adjacent to that of Giffords, has said of her entering the race, “I think it’s kind of important to find out what their decision is going to be, because the more time that goes by, the lower the tier of candidates gets.” Certainly a quandary for the Democratic Party in a overwhelmingly red state—the one hope to shift the balance of power is in jeopardy.
But isn’t it a little much?
Giffords’s chief of staff has confirmed that the congresswoman is capable of expressing her basic needs, but has trouble stringing sentences together and relies on hand gestures and facial expressions to convey more complicated emotions or concepts. Take that as a warning that the public should not be too optimistic about the speed and extent of Giffords’s recovery. A neurosurgeon not involved in her recovery has been quoted as saying, “This is a young lady in a high-profile job, well educated and eloquent. That requires a lot of brain tasks to successfully execute the job. To expect that now, it’s not fair.”
But we wouldn’t want to let expert opinion and medical facts spoil well-laid plans in partisan politics. Heroism doesn’t hurt in elections, and if Giffords were to run, public support would be at an all-time high even against the toughest opponent. After all, “tough on immigration” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “survived assassination attempt”. Maybe that’s why former Arizona Democratic Party chairman Jim Pederson chose to ignore Giffords’s well-being and focus on political goals, saying, “[Her decision to run] can certainly wait until next year. If she were perceived in terms of her recovery to be a viable candidate, I think she could raise significant money overnight. She could conceivably wait another nine or 10 months, I think.”
Not that I’m not excited for the prospect of a Democratic senator, but can we let Giffords have time to rehabilitate, re-learn basic skills and reconnect with her loved ones before we use her, and the tragedy of which she was a victim, as a pawn? Perhaps the miraculous will happen and the previously sparkling and clever Giffords will regain her full capacities and return triumphantly to national politics. But that timeline should be dependent on her progress and wishes, not the Democratic Party’s desperation.