It was like old times at the White House today. A reporter from Russia quizzed White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about this freedom thing that you Americans appear so fond of.
Here’s the civics lesson that came out of the exchange (On video, scroll to 50:20):
Q First my condolences to all the Americans, especially obviously to the victims. But second as to why — it does not seem all that incomprehensible, at least from the outside. It’s the reverse side of freedom. Unless you want restrictions, unless you want a bigger role for the government —
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me do this — because, look, I think there’s a — there’s an investigation that’s going to go on — there’s a —
Q No —
MR. GIBBS: Hold on, let me — let me take my time back just for a second. I think there’s an investigation that’s going to go on. I think there are — I think as it goes on, we will learn more and more about what happened.
I think as the President was clear last night, we may never know fully why or how. We may never have an understanding of why, as the President said, in the dark recesses of someone’s mind, a violent person’s mind, do actions like this spring forward. I don’t want to surmise or think in the future of what some of that might be.
But I think it’s important to understand that, as I said earlier, the event that was happening that day was the exercise of some very important, very foundational freedoms to this country: the freedom of speech; the freedom to assemble; the freedom to petition your government; democracy or a form of self-government that is of, by and for the people — all of — all very quintessential American values that have been on display along with the tremendous courage and resilience of those in that community and throughout this country that have had to deal with this tragedy.
Q Exactly, Robert. But this is what I was talking about — exactly this. This is America, the democracy, the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, the freedom to petition your government. And many people outside would also say — and the quote, unquote “freedom” of a deranged mind to react in a violent way is also American. How do you respond to that?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry. What’s the last part?
Q The quote, unquote “freedom” of the deranged mind to respect — to react violently to that, it is also American.
Q (Another reporter) No, it’s not.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I would disagree vehemently with that. There are — there is nothing in the values of our country, there’s nothing on the many laws on our books that would provide for somebody to impugn and impede on the very freedoms that you began with by exercising the actions that that individual took on that day. That is not American.
There are — I think there’s agreement on all sides of the political spectrum: Violence is never, ever acceptable. We had people that died. We had people whose lives will be changed forever because of the deranged actions of a madman. Those are not American. Those are not in keeping with the important bedrock values by which this country was founded and by which its citizens live each and every day of their lives in hopes of something better for those that are here.
On a less contentious note, Gibbs also revealed how the word about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords opening her eyes for the first time made it into last night’s speech:
Well, he — just to go through the arc of it — we talked a little bit about this, again, late on the plane but I should do it for everybody who might not have seen that. This happened — his first stop in the second-floor ICU was in her room, spent about 10 minutes there with members of her family, with her husband. And then goes on throughout the hospital seeing other patients, doctors, nurses, other staff, thanking them for what they had done.
The three friends go in — and I don’t know the exact time — and have the exchange and there’s the miracle of opening her eye and of responding to their voices and their memories as they’re talking aloud to her.
The President ended by seeing the trauma team that had first received those harmed in the shooting on Saturday, and then got into the car for the very short drive to the McKale Center. In the car, along with the First Lady, was her husband and her mother, and that’s when the President first heard the story and talked to the husband about whether he would be comfortable with sharing that story. Obviously there’s a lot of personal and privacy issues that I think the President wanted to ensure — he didn’t write any of it out.
He mentioned to me — we ended the meetings with the families about nine or 10 minutes before the President went out and in the hold he mentioned to me that at that — that he would insert that story in the portion of the speech where he discusses how she’s aware that we are all there rooting for her. And that’s how it all came to pass.