Thursday, January 13, 2011


Speech By: President BarackObama
Date: January 12, 2011
Location: University of Arizona
Occasion: Service for those shot in Tucson
No one wishes to be the bearer of bad news. In ancient Egypt, the Pharaoh generally had the messenger who brought unpleasant tidings executed. While it wasn’t exactly news at this point, President Obama’s speech in response to the criminal attacks in Tucson last weekend was a sad duty.
 It was also a chance to stand as leader of a nation shocked, and torn and seeking answers. He made the most of it. He begins by establishing that all important shared identification: “I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today,
“I am one of you,” the President is assuring us, “We share this pain together.”
He speaks on behalf of the entire nation in wishing those who have suffered, and lost much, well. And he speaks openly, and unashamedly, of faith. This is not feigned or incongruous – for many of those who were victims of the attack were people of faith. Judge Roll, the President notes, was on his way back from Mass, which he attended every day. It may be of some comfort to his family, and those who share his obviously deep faith, that this was one of his final acts.
In turn, he speaks of each of the six deceased victims – telling a personal tale about each one. This is a well-researched speech.
Again he speaks for all of us: “Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken – and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.
Next he speaks of the living, and in particular, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords: “I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak.” Then he departs from his prepared text to announce something that just occurred during his visit to her hospital room. “She just opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting,” he reveals, and the crowd goes wild with applause. He is no longer speaking for all of us – but to all of us.
His speech has become a universal appeal to the country. Who among us does not want to see Gabrielle Giffords recover, or is not deeply pained at the loss of nine year-old Christina Taylor Green? He is erecting a big tent – seeking inclusiveness. This is a large country he leads, and he wants us all to be involved in a respectful manner: “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 – 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.
At a time when so many have used this horrific crime as an excuse to promote their own political agendas, even, in the most crass manner possible, do political fundraising, the closest the President comes to promoting a political agenda is this: “We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.” Is this a reference, perhaps, to stricter gun control? It gets no more specific than that. But the crowd erupted in sustained applause, so they certainly thought they knew what he meant.
He immediately returns to his role as leader of a great, if wounded, nation: “But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.
Then, he calls on us to seek a higher purpose from this attack: “That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.”
Near the end, he is urging us on to higher calling: “I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”
And: “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost.
He has risen above the sniping, and digging, and vicious calumny of standard political debate, and ascended to a new plane. Now he is asking his nation to join him at that high station.
Truly this is a superior speech at a time such is sorely needed. It would not be venturing too far afield to declare it the best of his Presidency.

Length (words): 2510
Text Posted: New York Times

From The Bully Pulpit - Tom


  1. The words of the speech were wonderful. The delivery was perfect. And while I object to the pep rally atmosphere of the event (and it was an "event") I can hardly blame the President for the whooping of college students.

    However the whole speech rings hollow for the deeds and words of this President are too often at odds.

    Allow me to put this simply. When Churchill said, "we shall fight them on the beaches" you had to believe he meant it.

    Obama's Tucson speech was rhetorically masterful, but unless spoken in a vacuum, it rings hollow.

  2. I agree. He rose to the occasion in a manner not seen since the democratic convention that catapulted him into the national spotlight

  3. Excellent analysis, Tom. We are a broken and wounded nation. Obama came into his role as President with far more than even this tragedy to bear and govern. I can't help but think of the what ifs had a less charismatic, articulate, inclusive leader been elected for this job, at this time, in this country. We need at least this much confidence in ourselves and our nation to rise above the difficult climate we have now live in.

    There was one line that stood out for me and it was this:
    "We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others."

    No doubt from his Indonesian upbringing and that culture of go along, get along, this president knows something deep within about achieving a higher good. And realizing it takes greatness to raise that standard. Let's hope his message has lasting effects.

  4. Jason - thanks for your comment.
    I have to say, I have a real problem with the criticism about the audience reactions. What, after all, is the purpose of any speech but to stir and inspire the audience for whom it is intended.
    While it was labeled a "memorial service," it's not like this event was being held in a house of worship, other place where quiet reverence should be expected. It was after all, in a college auditorium.
    I have to agree with you about his previous words being far different from this speech. He, after all, is the one who uttered the unforgettable phrase "if they bring a knife to the fight, we'll bring a gun." Sounds more to me like a gang leader than a national leader. And, it irks me no end to hear the liberals complain that it is the conservative rhetoric which is responsible for the political atmosphere today. They are no better, they simply want to use this horrific crime as leverage to control the debate.
    But if no one says "it's time to abandon our ways of the past," nothing will ever change.
    He says he trying to change the tone. That's what a good leader does. I will take him, for now, at his word.
    Thanks again,

  5. Frank,
    Thanks for jumping in. For my money, this was easily the best speech of his Presidency.

  6. pmmele (yes, I know who you are, but if you wish anonymity, I will certainly respect that!),
    Thank you as well for jumping in.
    I too, thought that phrase stood out. It's a good one.
    But for me, what makes this speech stand out is the change in tone from even his own rhetoric and policies of the past two years. Whether you agree with the policy or not, there is no doubt he rammed that Health Care bill through Congress, completely ignoring the voices of opposition. And, he took a "shellacking" for it at the polls last November. (Actually a lot of other people took the shellacking.)
    And I hope his tone, if indeed it does change, will set stage for everyone. But, believe it or not our politics, for well or ill, have always been hard-fought nasty affairs. Adams' and Jefferson's supporters called their opponents names we would not even dream of accepting today. Jackson, simply challenged his opponents to duels, and shot them to death! In so many ways, our has softened and become more respectable over the years. Most people just don't have enough historical background to recognize it!
    Thanks again for jumping, this is the kind of debate we need!