[Guest post by Aaron Worthing; if you have tips, please send them here. Or by Twitter @AaronWorthing.]
Last Friday we passed a grim milestone. Gabby Giffords was shot in the head on January 8, 2011. She thankfully survived. So it has been three months since that day and the Daily Beast has an update on her condition:
For a politician such as Giffords, one key ambition of the rehabilitation process is helping to restore the ability to speak. Giffords speaks haltingly, stringing together three- or four-word responses to questions, and is beginning to formulate entire sentences. Morrow is working to help her recapture the ability to use language through song—the rhythmic strains of a familiar tune, such as “Happy Birthday,” triggering compensatory language activity in undamaged parts of the brain. “Language is messed up… But the brain can make up for itself. What doctors have found is that whenever you sing a song, the motor areas are lighting up, the emotional areas—all these different parts of the brain are working to get that song out. So, I’m going in through another way, to create a new pathway to language.”
Because of the near-mystical way in which the brain heals itself, it is impossible for doctors to predict precisely what the new normal ultimately will be for a given patient. Even so, Kim, the neurosurgeon, remains optimistic. This is partly because the bullet that went through Giffords’ brain injured the left hemisphere, which controls speech and movement on the right side of the body. Partial paralysis may result, but in the context of recovering from brain injury, doctors place less emphasis on that than on other factors. “Motor weakness, for example, is not that big a deal, compared with cognitive things,” Kim says. “So, first of all, is your personality going to be like it was before? Are you going to have the same kind of mental abilities, and think through things, and understand? And the social-relationship part—how sensitive are you to other people’s emotions? Do you want to relate? A lot of that function, it turns out, is in the right side of the brain.”
In Giffords’ case, the answer to Kim’s questions about cognitive ability is an emphatic yes. “We joke around, and I tell her all the funny things that happen in Washington, and she laughs,” says Pia Carusone, Giffords’ chief of staff. “When we say her personality is there, I mean, she’s like 100 percent there.” Carusone, who travels to Houston each week, says that Giffords communicates with her through “a combination of body language, personality, and speech. It’s some words, it’s expressions on her face.”
At times, members of her family and staff have had to try to surmise her wishes, asking themselves, “What would Gabby want?” They also have had to decide what to tell her about what happened and when. In the early weeks of her recovery, Giffords apparently believed that she’d been involved in an auto accident. Her family, friends, and staff carefully censored themselves when visiting her, avoiding any talk of the horrific events of Jan. 8. When her Arizona staff made a best-wishes video to send to Giffords, her district director, Ron Barber, who was severely wounded in the attack, carefully positioned himself on-camera to disguise his injuries.
And it is very interesting and you should read the whole thing. Now, first, contrary to the suggestion of the article, I don’t think speaking is a bona fide occupational qualification for a Congressperson. That would effectively mean that no deaf person could be a Congressperson, if they lack the ability to speak, and that is wrong. Of course a non-speaking person probably has a very difficult time convincing the people to vote for him or her anyway, but it’s not an automatic disqualifier. But it goes beyond speaking into how much she comprehends. They can’t even tell her why she was in this condition. Do we think she knows anything about the recent budget deal? Or Libya?
But we don’t have to get into a detailed debate about her capacity. Her assessment has already been conceded. She is not in Congress today and hasn’t been there for three whole months. Now, it is true that longer absences have occurred. For instance when Rep. Preston Brooks beat Sen. Charles Sumner for accusing Brooks’ uncle Sen. Andrew Butler of making a mistress of the “Harlot Slavery” in 1856, Sen. Sumner didn’t regain his seat until the Civil War began. He was even reelected while proclaiming himself unable to resume his job. And I argued from the very beginning that this it would be an injustice if the people of Arizona were denied their chosen representative, writing:
I don’t know or particularly care what she stood for on each of the issues. She could have been for everything I am against and against everything I am for. Because to me the issue is higher than normal politics. It’s the fact that she was chosen to represent her district and as such they are entitled to the representative they have chosen. And one man has vetoed that decision, an act that is unacceptable in a Republic.
And anyone who follows closely knows that I have been pulling for her to return to Congress from the beginning, so “we can agree and disagree with you as we normally do on the ordinary political questions.” In a very unfortunate choice of language I wrote to one person:
[I] mean she has been out a month and you are ready to replace her. [T]hat seems to be pulling the trigger a little too fast for my blood. [I] think we shouldn’t talk permanent replacement just yet.
Seriously, Charles, I meant metaphorically pulling the trigger. Really!!!
But although it is unacceptable for one criminal to deny the people of Arizona their voice in Congress, it is the reality we live with. Now there is a state law on the subject of dubious constitutionality, but it is obviously the case that the House of Representatives can declare her seat vacant, requiring the Governor to call an election. So let me suggest this as a procedure. Declare the seat vacant, hold the special election and then … let Gabby run for the seat if she wants. If the people of Arizona prefer to keep her on until she is able to serve again, then we in the rest of the country can hardly complain. But they should give their opinion on the subject.
Oh and Democrats, if this is what is on your mind…
Representative Gabrielle Giffords is still in the hospital, but some of her most ardent backers are so enamored of the idea of her running for the Senate that they describe the inevitable campaign commercials: the deep-voiced narrator recounting what happened to her, the images of her wounded, then recovering and speaking into the camera alongside her astronaut husband to call on Arizonans to unite.
…don’t do it. It’s a bad, bad idea. Worst idea since the Wellstone funeral.
Seriously, what could be a better example of victim-status politics than that? They aren’t arguing that she should be reelected because she is the best and the brightest, or because she supports the policies you believe in. Nor are they arguing that she should be reelected in spite of being the victim of a crime. They are saying to elect her because she was the victim of a crime. Does that make any sense to you?
No one wants to see the assassin’s veto be exercised, and as long as she is alive there is a natural desire to be optimistic that it can be avoided. But at three months, it is time to face facts. She is not doing her job. And that means at the very least the people of Arizona should have to decide whether they still want her to have this job.
Update: As is often the case, I gloss over what Althouse hones in on:
The Giffords team began to consider the Senate race, and the position some came to was, why not? There was no way of knowing whether Giffords would be able to mount a campaign, but if she recovered enough to serve in the House, why not the Senate? As one person in Giffords’ circle put it, “I think she will be unbeatable whatever she runs for.”
“Let’s say that she’s 90 percent [recovered],” says Mike McNulty, Giffords’ last campaign chairman. “Well, we’ve had congressmen in Arizona who didn’t even have a brain. So, it’s not like you have to be as talented as she is to be good at it.”
So the Daily Beast is all about exposing us to one beast of a person every day? Is that where the name comes from?
[Posted and authored by Aaron Worthing.]