There are moments in a presidency when a leader delivers a speech and everyone goes about their business thereafter as if nothing happened. Other times, a president rises to the occasion in such extraordinary fashion that the audience is somehow changed.
President Obama delivered a brilliant eulogy honoring victims of Arizona’s shooting rampage. He offered comfort to an aching nation.
Americans of all political stripes know, as Obama said, we must force ourselves to tone down our overheated rhetoric and talk to one another “in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
That is a nonpartisan sentence.
“Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath,” Obama said. “We may not be able to stop all the evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us.”
The president paid tribute to each victim, most eloquently recalling 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Obama did not merely rattle off interesting facets of her short life. He used her world view as a stirring rhetorical flourish:
“She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. ... I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.”
The crowd cheered when Obama said he had visited critically injured Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and soon after he left, she opened her eyes for the first time since she was shot.
At that moment, Michelle Obama was holding hands with Giffords’ husband, NASA astronaut Mark Kelly. Tears and cheers flowed. The Obamas traveled to Arizona to begin the healing and succeeded.
Some pundits lamented that a serious funeral turned into something more like a rally. Perhaps it should have been smaller and more reserved. But grief and emotions are expressed in various ways.
Obama implored us to rise to our better angels. The audience should not just go about its business. We should heed the call to turn down the volume and the heat.
(The Seattle Times, Jan. 14)