Thursday, January 13, 2011

President Obama Rises to the Occasion in Tuscon

President Barack Obama's speech in Tuscon on Wednesday was really quite remarkable. It was a potentially awkward venue for a memorial service, a college arena filled with boisterous students and an Arizona guest list that included Senator John McCain with whom he battled in the 2008 campaign and Governor Jan Brewer with whom he sparred over immigration in the summer of 2010.

First he cut through the finger-pointing and blame-gaming that has caught up much of cable news and the blogosphere over the last several days:

"But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. 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 of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together."
The man who is sometimes described as too aloof showed that as a virtue in dismissing what he called "the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle." And he put in a very eloquent call for civility:

"The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud."
That got him a standing ovation. But perhaps the high point was a short remark in the middle of the speech:

"We recognize our own mortality, and we 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 making the lives of other people better."
That's the spirit! Nothing to do wth politics, everythng to do with our shared humanity.

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