Gabrielle Giffords appeared on Capitol Hill Monday for the debt celing vote. (WASHINGTON POST)

Of course, he was referring to Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona representative who was shot in the head in January by a gunman but, remarkably, made it to the nation’s capital to cast her vote on Monday night. In an official statement, she said "I strongly believe that crossing the aisle for the good of the American people is more important than party politics.” Giffords voted against raising the debt ceiling twice in the past, but said that she felt she had to be there for this vote to raise the debt ceiling, which she supported. “I could not take the chance that my absence could crash our economy.”

It was a heartwarming moment that was a welcome diversion from the last-minute ugliness of the wholly uninspiring deal. Everyone, of course, was cheering Giffords’ rehabilitation. They were surprised—her expected appearance was not made public ahead of time, prompting a standing ovation and wild applause to break out over her showing. They were reduced to what Rep. James Clyburn called “not too Congressional” moments—Clyburn stood on a chair in the chamber to see what the fuss was about, while Vice President Joe Biden channeled his inner dude. “There is a basic humanity here, man.”

And they probably all found themselves contemplating two questions. How had she come so far in just six months? And for that matter, how have we? It’s hard to remember after so much partisan bickering and near-disastrous brinksmanship that it was only six months ago that the president stood at a lecturn at the University of Arizona, encouraging Washington to “make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds” and invoking the dreams of a little nine-year-old girl who was born on September 11th and died the same day and by the same gun Giffords was shot. “I want to live up to her expectations,” the president said in one of the speech’s most powerful lines. “I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.” 

And yet six months later, the House was voting on a bill that lived up to no one’s expectations, and that represented the worst of our democracy’s leaders rather than the best. It will avert a default, but little good can be said of it otherwise. It doesn’t do enough to fix our long-term deficit crisis. It is a one-sided answer to a two-sided problem. And it is likely to make our economy worse, not better.

When the still frail woman with the tiny frame and short hair walked into the room, supported on one arm by her husband and on the other by her friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, she managed to look like the biggest person in the room. In an instant, Giffords reminded the world how small the leaders in Washington had acted throughout the debate. How petty and narrow-minded the fight had become. And how pitiful the so-called “grand bargain” had ended up.

More from On Leadership:

Debt and American pessimism

Washington's leadership failure

End of shuttle program launches challenges for NASA

Alice Rivlin on why we shouldn’t have a debt ceiling

Be in the know on everything we’re covering here at The Post’s On Leadership section. Follow us on Twitter and “like” our page on Facebook.