Thursday, January 13, 2011

 

A Presidential Moment

Using a variation of the old adage, "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all," I found myself at a point this week where there was nothing I could add on this blog that would contribute anything positive to the noisy sturm und drang that exploded literally hours after the awful murder and mayhem in Tucson Saturday afternoon.

The rhetorical piling on from the Left on the rhetoric of the Right wasn't just repugnant given that, literally, the bodies hadn't been buried. It was also politically stupid, because there were actual valid points to be made about some rhetorical bombast coming from the Right over the last two years. None of these statements set off Jared Lee Loughner, but they shouldn't have been said at the time. On the other hand, the Left's "Palin's mouth and map caused this" was completely abominable and eradicated the space for any legitimate points that could have been made.

In any event, I elected not to take the bait. Instead, please take note of my friend Heather Mac Donald's
even-handed post on the excesses of political rhetoric. Cheers also to my former boss John Podhoretz's take on Sarah Palin's answer to her critics, delivered early Wednesday morning, 13 hours or so before the president delivered his address. I readily confess to having a blind bias spot when it comes to all things Palin, so there was no way I could address her speech -- with the "blood libel" stuff tossed in -- without completely losing it. Pod, however, said all that needed to be said.

And then came the President of the United States, who gave one of the best addresses of his term on Wednesday. Indeed, it compares favorably to his debut on the national stage at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I didn't watch it live -- a friend had a reception that I was obligated to attend. So, I watched it a few hours later (thanks to my DVR already having been set to record -- God help the irony -- FOX's "The Human Target").

As many others have pointed out, the atmospherics were weird: Set in a college auditorium, with many students there, the "memorial" seemed more like a pep rally. Yes, at first blush, that was rather unseemly. But then, it occurred to me, this wasn't, explicitly speaking, a memorial service. The event was both a reflection of those that died, but also a celebration of those that survived -- and an applauding of those that helped save them. That those that survived were recovering -- Gabrielle Giffords, in particular -- was an inspirational element that seemed worth cheering.

With that backdrop, the president
hit a home run in delivering a speech that honored the dead, comforted the survivors, applauded the everyday heroes -- and exhorted the nation to embrace civility in the wake of unspeakable tragedy. The address -- see below -- was put together perfectly. Given the bitter partisanship of the last few days, it was very wise of Obama (or his writers) to start off the list of the murdered with Republican federal judge John Roll. It allowed him to note that Roll was suggested for the federal bench by Obama's 2008 presidential rival John McCain -- and nominated by President George H.W. Bush. Those facts helped deliver some needed bipartisanship to the affair -- as did his nod to one of the older victims, Phyllis Schneck, who the president noted was "a Republican [who] took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better."

The president completed his listing of the deceased by eulogizing nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the Child of 9/11 who has become, in many ways the face of the Tucson tragedy. Obama effectively used (and I mean that in the most generous, non-judgmental, way possible) Christina as a symbol of all the optimism and boundless joy found expressed in youth, "undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted."

He effectively then transitioned to deliver the big news of the night -- that Rep. Giffords had, just hours before, opened her eyes for the first time, information that sent an already exuberant audience into euphoria. Obama followed that up by delineating the heroic actions of intern Daniel Hernandez, who helped stanch Giffords bleeding, the brave seniors who rushed Loughner, "before he could reload," the president underscored. (I must admit that this was the one moment that my politically cynical side tried to assert itself: While this was a factual recitation of the events of the day, isn't it possible that the word "reload" right there couldn't send a slight reminder and contrast to some of Sarah Palin's now-notorious "Don't retreat, reload" line? No, I will try to do as my president suggests and not succumb to easily-taken-for granted cynicism. But, again, I try to be honest on this page and I have to admit that the thought did cross my mind.)

That said, the president wound his speech down by admonishing the lack of civility in contemporary politics (seemingly directed slightly more to his allies on the left than his foes on the right) and then offered a challenge to all -- partisans and non-partisans -- in Christina's name, to proceed in the days ahead to do the work of democracy in a charitable fashion:

I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us — we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

The words may not long survive the inevitable contact with reality as Congress gets back to its business next week. But this was an uplifting note to end a truly inspirational address.

Our president served his country well this night.

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