While the star speeches at the Democratic National Convention grabbed headlines and dominated TV coverage, another, smaller moment at the DNC moved people to both tears and cheers.
Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot through the head by a crazed man in January 2011, recited the Pledge of Allegiance at the opening of Thursday night’s session. It was truly an emotional moment as Giffords, assisted by DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, slowly made her way across the wide stage.
As she spoke the words of the pledge, with her brain injuries still so clearly on display, she wore a wide, bright smile. I choked up, and if anyone else who was watching didn’t, well, they need to add some empathy.
Two prominent South Dakota Democrats who weren’t at the convention had to be especially touched by Gifford’s gallant performance.
Sen. Tim Johnson suffered a less violent but still damaging brain injury in December 2006. Johnson recovered enough to continue to serve in the Senate, winning a third term in 2008.
His speech, once clear and clever, is now slowed and slurred, and while he needs a wheelchair, a walker and assistance to move about, he keeps working in DC and SD. His sparkling, bright eyes reveal the passion and intelligence still evident, still deeply involved in the nation’s governance. I think he’s running in 2014.
Former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin is a good friend of Giffords. I recall speaking to her in the hours after that horrific shooting in a Tucson mall parking lot, and the tears and emotions she was unafraid to share as she spoke of her friend.
Herseth Sandlin soon was at Giffords’ side at a treatment facility and has continued to be supportive of her former House colleague.
Giffords, determined to recover as much of her past life as possible, resigned from the House but plans to continue to play a public role in issues she believes in. She is one brave, strong woman.
SHS told me via email this week she is paying scant attention to politics now as she focuses on her new job and getting her “kiddo” into preschool.
Giffords was forced to the sideline by a crazed man with a gun. Herseth Sandlin lost a close election in 2010 and is still considering her political, personal and professional future. At 41, I expect we will see her name on a ballot again. If TJ doesn’t run in 2014, maybe that will mark her return.
Sen. Johnson has yet to announce his intentions. He is, quietly, the most successful politician in state history, winning every race in his career, either for the Legislature, Congress or the Senate.
Johnson has served more than 26 years in Congress and has two years left in this term. He has overcome the odds to become the dean of the delegation.
Johnson understands what Gifford has overcome. More than most, he can appreciate and admire her efforts.
All of us, however, can cheer her on. Go, Gabby!