The Arizona Of Gabby Giffords

 One year ago tomorrow in southern Arizona, Jared Lee Loughner calmly put a bullet clean through Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords's head, and then shot another 18 people, killing six. First thing this morning I saw Paul Babeu, sheriff of neighboring Pinal County, Arizona, on Fox & Friends; there was no mention of the Giffords shooting, however -- Babeu was there to promote his newly-announced congressional candidacy (not in Giffords's district), and secondarily to promote Mitt Romney, whom he has endorsed. (Babeu moved to Arizona from North Adams, Massachusetts, where he ran for office several times with little success.) I didn't take down his exact words, but one of Arizona's top law-enforcement officials, running for Congress, on the weekend of the massacre's anniversary, explicitly accused members of congress of abdicating their Constitutional oath; said that Romney's patriotism stands him in sharp contrast with the current President; and warned that Obama's re-election would imperil America's standing in the world for a generation.

So, you know, there's where we stand a year later.

Babeu is briefly mentioned, and not in a flattering way, in A Safeway In Arizona, a remarkable new book by Tom Zoellner that I've just read. I highly recommend that you read it, although it is uneven and frustrating. I may be stretching the metaphor, but the book is not unlike Arizona itself: sprawling, disconnected, frequently magnificent, occasionally frightening, and -- at least for me -- very difficult to sort out disparate feelings toward.

I was born and raised in Arizona, and return from time to time. Immediately after the Giffords shooting, I tried to write a primitive version of what Zoellner has done in ambitious scope: a meditation without conclusion on whether something about Arizona might contribute to -- not cause, but contribute to -- something like this. I ended up paring back much of my Arizona observations, and focusing more on national conservative culture, in large part because I felt too removed from the state to write with authority. The contributing factor of conservative culture -- again, contributing, not causal -- is something I do feel reasonably confident addressing, particularly having warned of this kind of thing in a cover story I wrote nine months earlier.

Zoellner has plenty of authority to discuss Arizona, although I find him occasionally on less solid footing when it comes to the conservative culture piece. He is also, by his own upfront admission, far too close to the story to be trusted as an observer. He invites us to come along on his carefully constructed, detailed journey of observation, knowing that the view may be distorted and warped. It is well worth travelling along, even if at the end it might not be clear what exactly to think.

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