Amid the personal and family narrative that is “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope,” author Mark Kelly incorporates the most frank assessments to date of public figures involved in the aftermath of the shooting of his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
Kelly imagines a conversation with former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, for instance, who “targeted” the Democrat’s Arizona district with cross hairs during the 2010 elections.
“Given that a lot of the discussion in the wake of the shooting had singled out Palin, I expected she might also want to clear the air,” Kelly wrote. “‘You are not responsible,’ I planned to tell Sarah Palin. ‘But you are irresponsible.’ … As it turns out she never called.”
Kelly similarly scolds Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for neither calling nor visiting Giffords during her recuperation.
“[W]e thought he’d ask to visit Gabby, or at least give a call to see how she was doing,” he wrote. “Our only contact with him had been a simple get-well card he’d sent a few days after Gabby was injured.”
Not all political cameos in the book are negative. President George H.W. Bush, who visited Giffords in the Houston hospital where she has been rehabbing, is described as an “elder statesman” who “seemed genuinely concerned about Gabby and her loved ones.”
“President Bush sat with Gabby for fifteen minutes holding her left hand. It was very touching to watch,” Kelly wrote. “‘You’ve been so strong,’ he told her. ‘I’m really proud of you and I’m praying for your recovery.’”
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama come off as gracious, visiting several times with Giffords and her family, even on the day the president authorized the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.
In the days following the shooting, however, Giffords’ family tried to keep visits few and media fodder light, out of fear, as Kelly wrote, “that someone from Washington might use a visit to assess Gabby’s competence and her ability to remain in office. That’s only natural in the cutthroat world of politics.”
Giffords was, after all, a rising star in Arizona politics and was weighing whether to run for the Senate in 2012 or perhaps wait until 2014 to try her hand at the governorship, the book reveals.
Overall, Kelly comes off acutely aware of how his wife was portrayed in the media and how they were perceived in the public, reading and being affected by not only articles and op-eds but reader comments underneath them.
It’s an understandable sentiment considering Kelly calls the erroneous report by NPR that Giffords had died in the shooting “the most shocking moment of my life.”
That other media outlets followed suit was inexcusable, Kelly wrote. “It was one of the worst-possible examples of pack journalism.”
He does, though, have tender words for the local press. Giffords’ staff, Kelly writes, “were touched that the local reporters, having covered Gabby for years, were especially upset by the tragedy.”
Kelly reserves the kindest words for Giffords’ staff, who took no days off to grieve.
The star of their colleague Gabe Zimmerman, who was killed in the shooting, was rising as fast as that of Giffords. She had planned to make him the next district director, the book reveals.
The narrative is peppered with many small moments that have resonance in the Capitol Hill community, not least of which was Giffords greeting House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood during her August return to the House chamber to vote for the debt limit deal.
“Bill would later say there are long-standing members of Congress who don’t even know his name,” Kelly wrote. “For Gabby to greet him so affectionately and by name was very meaningful to him.”