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Public Statements

What Can You Say?

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. FORTENBERRY. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

Before my colleague Dan Burton leaves the Chamber, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for your thoughtful reflections here.

I should tell the Speaker, as well as everyone who might be watching, that we were teasing you a moment ago because you said you were only going to speak for 10 minutes, and I said, Dan Burton, you've never spoken for 10 minutes in your life. You're going to go a lot longer than that.

You held it to about 10, and your words were not only precise but deeply thoughtful and meaningful, and I think they're an outstanding tribute to you in leaving this body. I want to thank you for your personal friendship to me and for your words of admonition to the rest of us to try to be a little bit kinder, a little bit gentler.

I think it's important for people to know--and you alluded to it--that, over a decade ago, your own wife died. The caregiver for your wife, as she had cancer, was Samia, who became your friend and who became a friend of your family's, and your own children encouraged you to, perhaps, pursue a relationship with her, and now she is your lovely wife. It has been a pleasure to see you so happy in these last years of public service, but we really appreciate your dedication and passion to serving this Nation. So thank you so much.

Madam Speaker, I would like to turn to another topic now. I sat in my office last night, looking at the pictures of the precious little children who were killed in Connecticut last Friday. What can you say? My heart breaks for them and their parents and for the people of Newtown. I looked at the picture of little Caroline Previdi, one of the 6-year-old children who died. I'm sure she was a happy child, full of life's potential just like my own little Caroline, who just turned 7 a few days ago. What can you say? It's unthinkable that a person would kill innocent little children with such cravenness and violence. These children's Christmas presents are still under the tree. Their moms and dads are still looking at them.

In this town where we pride ourselves on rhetorical flourish, precision of thought, and volume of words, what can you say? What can you do other than stand in solidarity, in spirit, with the grieving families, and perhaps--just perhaps--hug those you love a little bit tighter?

Now the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy is sparking a national debate about how and why this happened and about how it might have been prevented. That debate is understandable and needs to happen. In the coming weeks, Congress will be called on to react. Questions have already arisen about guns and school safety and emergency preparedness. But these concerns and debates may bypass altogether some of the deeper, more difficult issues involved, like what we grappled with after the tragic shootings of the young people at Columbine High School and on the Virginia Tech campus.

What we must do is be honest. Yes, there were guns involved. Yes, there are issues of school safety. Yes, there was a collapse of mental health intervention. But I have not heard a significant discussion of the broader cultural context in which this and other tragedies have happened.

All of these tragedies happened against a backdrop of a culture that increasingly devalues and degrades human life. Graphic acts of violence and inhumanity pervade popular culture, entertainment, and other venues that vie for our attention. In flipping through the channels recently, I saw on a ``Law and Order'' show, ironically, a man shot in an elevator and the blood splashing on his attorney. Seconds later, we move on to the next scene or to the next commercial without consequence.

We are supposedly entertained by this, and of course the producer gets the profit, but who really pays? Society grows increasingly numb to the increasing levels of wanton brutality, cruelty, and indignity, all celebrated for profit. Perhaps most of us can shake it off or just turn it off, but what happens when a person of limited stability sees these images over and over again? We preach tolerance for one another, but we fill our culture with grotesque and inhuman depictions and expect that there will not be consequences.

Madam Speaker, I am sure there are any number of Ph.D.s out there who will somehow refute that there is a correlation between this aggressive assault of images constantly before us and the recurring violence that is all around us. Instead, we want simple answers and quick fixes, and then we'll just move on.

I suggest that we look inward to regain a deeper understanding of what it means to be in community, in a common bond with neighbors, where persons are not in isolation, where check mechanisms are so ordinary that persons are not simply roaming around, disconnected from communities of concern, family life, mental health treatment, or swift enforcement action, whatever is needed. A single and simple policy response from Washington cannot fix this. We all want to have a more caring and supportive society, but the fragmentation of family, civic, and our Nation's community life lends itself to isolation, anger and, for some, even despair.

Let's be clear: this tragedy is the result of a deeply disturbed person who committed unspeakable crimes. That is where the blame rests. But perhaps an outcome deserving of these children who died is that we all take some responsibility for the degradation of culture--what we think about, the way we conduct ourselves--and perhaps strive for that which is noble, for that which is good, and for that which is just.

Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.

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