Although the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, had no apparent political motivation, the Tucson attack marked the beginning of a period of national soul-searching about the coarsening tone of American politics, leading to calls for more moderation and compromise and less heated political rhetoric.
Barber was then the district director on Giffords’s congressional staff and, as he explained to his supporters this month, his reasons for running to succeed her have everything, and nothing, to do with the shootings that also left six dead and 12 others wounded, including Giffords.
“We were not defined by the day of January the 8th,” he told the group at his campaign headquarters in downtown Tucson. “We were defined by what happened afterward . . . the passion, kindness, goodwill, prayers.
“All of those things helped those of us who were there that day heal, but they’ve also set the tone for who we are,” Barber said.
In what is expected to be one of the most hotly-contested House races in the country, Barber has decided to build his campaign around the simple idea of a new civility in politics, making a strategic decision to renounce the rancor that the Tucson shootings have come to represent, and betting instead on the outpouring of generosity that followed.
Given the current political climate, the approach carries some risks: It not only prevents a candidate from exploiting an opponent’s weaknesses but also precludes the kind of counterattacks that campaigns often resort to in defense of their candidates.
Barber acknowledges that the focus on civility may seem a little unorthodox, but he is committed to it. “I know it sounds kind of Pollyannaish, but that’s who I am,” he said.
Yet if anyone has the political capital to pull it off, it may be Ron Barber, in Arizona’s new Second Congressional District.
The bullet that pierced Barber’s cheek exited through the back of his neck, barely missing a carotid artery. He endured more than a year of physical therapy to regain the use of his leg and he had to undergo psychological counseling to address symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Arizona Republicans have already begun hitting Barber. According to the Arizona Daily Star, the state party has spent nearly $110,000 this month on mailers and robocalls charging that his “flawed policies” would hurt the economy and Arizona’s families.
“I’m sure there will be negative attacks,” Barber said. “But we’ve pledged that we’re not going to do it with our campaign. And I’m going to stick to it. It’s so important to me that we try to change how we engage with each other, and I’m not going to let anything steer me off that path.”