There’s a lot of awfulness in Washington today as the city and its political class grapple with the shootings at a Republican baseball practice that left five people wounded including Rep. Steve Scalise, the 3rd ranking Republican in the House.
But, out of awfulness (almost) always comes some good. And, the speech Speaker Paul Ryan gave on the House floor today honoring the victims and urging unity very much qualifies.
The whole speech is at the bottom of this post and, if you haven’t read it yet, you should. I plucked out a few lines that I thought were extremely well said and moving. They’re below.
1. “An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”
It’s easy to lose sight of our common humanity – whether you are a member of Congress or not. The tendency, particularly in our current national political environment, is to focus on what divides us, how different we are. Step back from that narrow focus, however, and you see we have much more in common than we differ on. Family, friends, food to eat, a place to live. Dreams and hopes.
2. “There are many memories from this day we will want to forget, and many images we will not want to see again. But there is one image in particular that this House should keep. And that is a photo I saw of our Democratic colleagues gathered in prayer this morning after hearing the news.”
We tend, in circumstances like these, to remember the bad stuff. But, Ryan’s right. We need to push all that out and put some good images there instead. Here’s the picture he was talking about.
3. “We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in. At times, our emotions can get the best of us.”
This is right on. Fortunately, for most of us, we get passionate, argue and then move on. Increasingly people – in Congress and out of it – are unable to do that. Disagreeing without being disagreeable – or even without getting and staying really angry – has become impossible or close to it.
4. “For all the noise and fury, we are a family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire.”
Again, a terrific reminder by Ryan of our common humanity. Politics – whether you are an elected official, a reporter, a staffer or someone who just follows it closely – is more vocation than job. The vast, vast majority of us are in this because we are interested in the never-ending political and policy debates in the country.
5. “So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now.”
Slow down. Take a breath. Realize that the goal of attacks like this is to highlight our differences. Allowing that to happen makes what James Hodgkinson did have real power. Coming together after such an attack neuters it of meaning.
6. “I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together…to lift each other up…and to show the country—show the world—that we are one House.”
The world is watching how Congress – and the rest of the country – reacts to this shooting. Ryan is trying to make sure members draw a distinction between political differences and human differences – and to remember that we might have plenty of the former but we have far fewer of the latter.
Full text of Ryan Speech
My colleagues: There are strong emotions throughout this House today. We are all horrified by this dreadful attack on our friends and colleagues, and those who serve and protect this Capitol. We are all praying for those who were attacked and their families:
-Special Agent David Bailey
-Special Agent Crystal Griner
“We are all giving our thoughts to those currently being treated for their injuries AT THIS MOMENT. And we are united. We are united in our shock and anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.
“I know we want to give our thanks to the first responders and the Alexandria Police Department, who were on the scene in minutes. And I know this House wants to state unequivocally that we are, as ever, awed by the tremendous bravery of the Capitol Police.
“I spoke with Special Agent Bailey and Special Agent Griner this morning…I expressed our profound gratitude to them. It is clear to me, based on eyewitness accounts, that without these heroes, Agents Bailey and Griner, many lives would have been lost.
“I know we all want to learn as much as we can about what happened. We just received a briefing from the Sergeant at Arms. I have complete confidence in the investigation that is being conducted by the Capitol Police working with local law enforcement. I know we want to extend our gratitude for the outpouring of support we have received from throughout the Capitol and from throughout the country.
“Now, knowing Steve Scalise as we all do, he is likely really frustrated that he will not be able to play in the baseball game. I also know that Steve wants all of us to commend the bravery of those who came to the aid of the wounded. In the coming days, we will hear their stories, and we will have the chance to hold up their heroism.
“My colleagues, there are many memories from this day we will want to forget, and many images we will not want to see again. But there is one image in particular that this House should keep. And that is a photo I saw of our Democratic colleagues gathered in prayer this morning after hearing the news.
“You know, every day, we come here to test and challenge each other. We feel so deeply about the things we fight for and believe in. At times, our emotions can get the best of us. We are all imperfect. But we do not shed our humanity when we enter this chamber.
“For all the noise and fury, we are a family. These were our brothers and sisters in the line of fire. These were our brothers and sisters who ran into danger and saved countless lives.
“So before this House returns to its business, I want us to slow down and reflect, to think about how we are being tested right now. Because we are. I ask each of you to join me in resolving to come together…to lift each other up…and to show the country—show the world—that we are one House. The people’s House—united in our humanity.
“It is that humanity which will win the day. It always will.”