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Our Views: A stormy week
Shooting, then snow; reaction to 2 events brings out the worst in some
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Members of The Times editorial board include Publisher Dennis L. Stockton; General Manager Norman Baggs; Executive Editor Mitch Clarke; and Managing Editor Keith Albertson.

If the rest of 2011 plays out the way the last week has, we're in for quite a ride.

Going back to last weekend, we went from tragedy to survival mode in a 48-hour period. A horrible, senseless shooting in Arizona was followed by a once-in-a-decade snowstorm that shut down the northern part of our state for days. They were separate events some 1,800 miles apart, but both sparked unpleasant responses that provide a worthwhile lesson or two.

First came the shooting in Tucson that critically wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six people, including a federal judge. One of the dead was a 9-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, born Sept. 11, 2001. She came into the world on a day of violence and left it on another; born on a day that united a nation and lost in an event that further divides us.

The finger pointing began before the gun was cold. The first reaction from many commentators was that our harsh political rhetoric had sent the shooter over the edge. They leaped to the conclusion that right-wing tea party politics was to blame for his violent outrage.

Yet those fingers point right back at the accusers, who with their rash judgments were blindly taking the same low road they admonish others for following.

They ignored the fact that, a) no one knew the shooter's motive that soon, and still can't quite determine it due to his deranged mindset, and b) regardless of his intent, political discourse doesn't equate to gunplay, at least not in this part of the civilized world. It may get hot and heavy and cross the line of decency and decorum, but anyone who resorts to violent acts is not part of a discussion but merely a criminal thug. And the fact that disturbed, violent people walk among us is no fair excuse to silence legitimate points of view.

Some insist that fanning the flames of political opposition can lead to crazies opening fire in a crowd. So can many other stimuli - TV, movies or whatever voices they hear in their heads. Yet we are now in an atmosphere in which the hair-trigger reaction to every event is to color it in political terms of black and white, us vs. them, good vs. evil.

Politics. Everything now is about politics, no break in sight, never a chance to take a breath and just be Americans, or even human beings. Even after President Barack Obama's speech at a memorial service, praise for his words of comfort soon gave way to speculation on whether it would boost his poll numbers. That's a cold analysis to make while a little girl is buried and a brave woman struggles to recover from a bullet through her brain.

Closer to home, Mother Nature decided to make her presence felt Sunday and Monday by blanketing North Georgia with 3 to 6 inches of snow followed by a crusting of ice on top like glaze on a doughnut. What might have been considered a mere dusting in Chicago or Syracuse is a rarity down South, shutting down schools, businesses and governments and keeping many of us homebound for days.

Amid the weather chaos Monday, our 82nd governor took office. Nathan Deal's inauguration had to forego many of the pomp and circumstance because of the weather. The former Gainesville congressman took the oath in the House chamber before a small audience, though many more watched on TV and the Internet.

The fact that the service was more austere might turn out to be symbolic of the Deal administration in Atlanta. The new governor inherits a state budget in drastic need of an overhaul, and the difficult work of doing so is just beginning in the Capitol. But before he could even tackle that task, his first crisis awaited him even as he raised his right hand.

As we began to dig out and start to get back to normal by midweek, we heard the inevitable chorus of "what should government have done better?" to clear the roads and mitigate the inconvenience. As if somehow nature herself can be conquered if we simply muster enough public will and dollars to do so.

Clearly, Southern states do not have the kind of snow-clearing equipment they do up north. It would be pointless to pay millions of dollars for plows that will sit unused for years at a time, especially when government budgets already are tight. Is anyone willing to pay higher taxes for equipment we seldom need? Or endure more government cutbacks, teacher furloughs and slices into education budgets so we can make it to the supermarket a day earlier?

Certainly the icy roads were a hassle, and we should address the need for emergency vehicles to reach their destinations effectively. But as we weigh costs vs. benefits, it's hard to see the sense in buying more snow-clearing gizmos unless half-foot accumulations become commonplace.

Government cannot conquer all the ills the heavens send our way, and even if it could, would we really want it to? Perhaps a day or two out of the rat race might be just what we need to slow down and reconnect with each other.

Politics and government. They have derailed our ability to think rationally, in the case of the former, and our willingness to tough out problems on our own, in the case of the latter.

This wasn't a week we'd like to replicate. But amid such difficulties, we can find ways to better ourselves for the trials to come later. Let's hope all of us take that lesson from a stormy week and react with more grace and restraint as events unfold through the rest of 2011.