Thursday, January 13, 2011

Obama's Memorial Address Spot On

President Obama spoke last night at a memorial service for the victims of Saturday’s tragic shooting in Tucson, Ariz. His thirty-minute speech – made so long due to extensive interruptions of applause – was perfect for the moment, both expressing grief over the lives lost, and hope for those who survived and for our country moving forward.

Obama started by eulogizing all of the victims, giving brief descriptions of their lives; each victim’s short obituary was capped off with respectful applause from the assembled audience. Obama went on to thank the heroes of the day, including gay intern Daniel Hernandez, who aided the wounded – including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords – following the attack, and the man and woman responsible for wrestling the gun out of the shooter’s hand and tackling him to the ground; the president joined the crowd in cheering for these heroes.

Obama did not shy away from touching on the vitriol that pervades our national discourse, making it clear that he does believe our debates need to be toned down in response to the shooting: “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized… it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

However, he was quick to add that there is, as of now, no certain connection between the domestic terrorist’s attack and Republicans' violent words and imagery.

“The truth is, none of us can know what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s heart.

What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more reason to turn on each other. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves in all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
Towards the end of his address, Obama took on a very hopeful yet pragmatic tone, saying that “we may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat each other is entirely up to us.”

All taken together, the president’s memorial address was right on the money: it offered respect and condolences to each individual who deserved it, and also looked at the big picture - that of our vitriolic debates, and that of our need to rise up out of this tragedy spiritually stronger than ever before.

Obama has always been praised for his speech-making, and his memorial address in Tucson was no exception.

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