Thursday, January 13, 2011

President Obama in Tucson

President Obama spoke last night in Tucson at a ceremony on the campus of the University of Arizona.

It was one of the more powerful addresses that Mr. Obama has delivered as president, harnessing the emotion generated by the shock and loss from Saturday’s shootings to urge Americans “to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully” and to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

“At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

You can read the whole speech here.

The Very Serious People (i.e. the pundits) were all wondering if the president could rise to the occasion; this was his big test in the same way that Bill Clinton faced the big test when he spoke after the Oklahoma City bombing or George W. Bush with the bullhorn at Ground Zero. (I’m not sure that the Ground Zero comparison works; it wasn’t a memorial service, it was a spontaneous moment as the president toured the site. His address to Congress would be a closer match. But it’s now iconic, so it will have to do.) Well, as far as I can tell, Mr. Obama got it exactly right. It was a political speech without being too political, it was very emotional at times without being mawkish, and he showed what being president is all about; reaching out to everyone, not just the ones who voted for him.

To be fair, he had the good fortune to have the opening act of the day performed by Sarah Palin, who demonstrated exactly how not to address the nation at a time of crisis. And the president was joined at the ceremony by the entire Arizona congressional delegation, including Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jon Kyl, and a lot of Republicans from around the country. (One noticeable absence: House Speaker John Boehner, who chose to remain in Washington, D.C. to host a cocktail party for members of the Republican National Committee. Whoops.)

I expect there will be some griping from the right wing about something at the gathering. Michelle Malkin is gobsmacked that someone was handing out t-shirts with the “Together We Thrive” logo on it, and I’m very sure that someone calling themselves a true Christian will be offended that the service started off with Dr. Carlos Gonzalez giving a Native American blessing and accuse President Obama of being a secret Navajo or something. Oh, and there will be someone who will question whether if it’s appropriate for people to applaud at a memorial service. (Why the hell not? I’ve been to plenty of them where there’s been not just applause but laughter, too.) But all that whining just makes them look all the more petty.