If you missed President Obama's memorial tribute in Tuscon
last night, it's worth reading in full. Or better yet, watch the video
even though it runs a bit long because of the applause.
While most focused on his words, his most bitter critics have been pointing to the applause as somehow disrespectful, likening it to a pep rally. I admit I found it a bit jarring myself, but not because it was misplaced, simply because it was so enthusiatic and so prolonged that it interupted the flow of his speech. No matter, he adjusted his cadence perfectly and maintained the dignity of the moment. In any event, the applause was clearly a release for collective grief and in celebration of the departed they were there to honor.
From beginning to end, Obama's words both comforted and inspired us to put aside our anger and frustrations and hark to our best and kindest impulses. A couple of passages that struck me most deeply:
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 -- (applause)-- and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better. (Applause.)
For me that encapsulates what being a liberal is really about. It's a call for compassion, to seek outcomes for the common good rather than conquests for personal benefit or political power. And his words for the fallen 9 year old didn't leave a dry eye in the house.
Imagine -- imagine for a moment, here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council. 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. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want to live up to her expectations. (Applause.) I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. (Applause.) All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations. (Applause.)
Our President gently challenged us last night to employ our words and acts as tools to heal our common bonds as fellow Americans, rather than weapons to widen the partisan rifts between us. I hope that at least some will listen.
Of course, it's impossible not to see the contrast between our President's stirring of our hearts and Palin's pre-emptive strike earlier in the day with the release of her video statement. Where Obama rekindled the light of hope, Palin lobbed another of her IEDs into the discourse. As Michael Shear so succinctly put it
, "[Palin's] video statement captured with precision the bubbling anger and resentment that is an undercurrent of the national conversation about our public discourse."
In short, Obama asked us to honor the victims by restoring civility in our discourse, while predictably, Palin used this tragedy to cast herself as the victim and called on her loyalists to keep the cauldron of caustic commentary boiling. As many have said in the last few hours, it left her looking very small and mean in comparison.
Labels: human spirit, President Obama, Sarah Palin