I’m slightly ashamed to admit it, but over the years, I’ve gotten several column ideas from “The Daily Show.” This one started out that way too. But a lot happened between start and finish.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D–N.Y.) was the guest on “The Daily Show” last Tuesday. After watching the interview and being intrigued by the centrist Democrat about whom I previously knew nothing, I decided to Google her. I then came across an interesting New York Times piece from 2008 titled “She Might be President Someday” (05/18/2008). Written in the heat of the Democratic Primary season, the article discussed — in light of Hillary Clinton’s eminent defeat to Barack Obama — who might actually become the first female president someday.

Many of the usual, boring names were thrown about — Kathleen Sebelius, Janet Napolitano, Sarah Palin and Condoleeza Rice among them. But two younger women were mentioned as actual contenders a bit down the road. Both deemed “dragon slayers,” these women were thought to have a solid chance because they were Democrats who had fought their way to Washington from traditionally Republican districts. Gillebrand was one of them.

Gabrielle Giffords was the other.

And so this column started, sure to be yet another predictable commentary extolling the virtues of being a centrist in today’s fiercely divided political environment. As I did with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D–La.) six years ago, I intended to anoint Gillebrand and Giffords as the right kind of Democrats, and the type of female candidates qualified and positioned to win the presidency six to 10 years down the road.

A few days later, as I completed the final version of the column — much different from the first version — Giffords remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit at University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona. Doctors cautiously hope that she will survive, but the prognosis for the extent of her recovery remains grave. Six others were killed in the rampage at the event where Giffords was speaking informally with constituents.

This terrible tragedy does nothing to change who Giffords has always been, the qualities I intended to discuss. Indeed, in the most bizarre way, it actually promotes this discussion onto a higher level.

Being a Democrat from Arizona who supports President Obama’s health care plan and opposes Arizona’s infamous, largely unconstitutional, immigration law made Giffords about as popular as a congressman from Michigan who drives a Toyota and spends his Saturdays in a scarlet and gray sweater.

As a person whose political positions often trouble both my conservative and liberal friends, I’ve always been fascinated by politicians who can speak to different parts of the political spectrum. Such people are worth studying for the simple reason that, in understanding their political thinking, I can gain more than just guidelines to a party platform, but rather actual social insights that drive a thoughtful, compassionate person.

Giffords is one such person. A strong proponent of gun rights, she also received a 100 percent rating from the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League for her consistent pro-choice stance. While she opposes Arizona’s fascist, search-and-seizure immigration law, she is actually a strong proponent of securing the Mexican border. Those who know her spent the entire weekend talking on television about what an understanding and open person she is and how productive and effective that makes her as a congresswoman.

Given that background, it’s bizarre and distressing that Giffords — the calm, beloved voice of the cooler heads — will suddenly become the face of our explosive political age. The rhetorical firefight that erupted at Obama’s election — involving slogans such as “Kill the Bill” and actual crosshairs being placed on political maps — has finally claimed a victim: It’s the young congresswoman who did things differently, who avoided that bitter partisan fight and spent her free time talking to constituents rather than lobbying and plotting in Washington.

Fingers were pointed as early as Saturday evening, with liberals blaming the Tea Party movement for creating the nuclear environment that emboldens the mad. The Right responded with a sharp condemnation of those who seek to politicize this tragic event — an interesting response, given their 10-year love affair with 9/11.

This is a time when pointing fingers comes so easy. But there’s a bigger lesson here for all of us, the young firebrands on this campus especially. As important as it is to advocate for your issues, to win debates and to make change, there is something else that’s much more important.

Godspeed, Madame President.

Imran Syed can be reached at galad@umich.edu.

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