The tragic shootings of a Democratic congresswoman and nineteen others Saturday did little to ease the vitriol in the national dialogue, but President Barack Obama’s speech saw liberals and conservatives converge with praise.
In a televised memorial address Wednesday night at the University of Arizona, the president called for national unity in the wake of the tragedy that badly injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona and left six others dead, including a federal judge and an aide to Giffords.
“Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing. Our hearts are broken — and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness,” Obama said in an emotional speech honoring the victims.
Former Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen, usually a vociferous critic of Obama, wrote in the Washington Post that the president was “brilliant and courageous” in his remarks.
“He shined a light on the victims and the heroes and told their stories, which had been lost amid the shameful debate that erupted following the attack. In so doing, he gave voice to their courage and sacrifice — and reclaimed the narrative of the day for them,” Thiessen wrote, referring to the speech as “genuine” and comprising “elegance” and “eloquence.”
At the National Review, contributor Jack Pitney wrote: “President Obama gave a fine speech reminding us that there is more to life than politics, and more to politics than self-interest.”
David Frum, also a former Bush speechwriter who now runs his own blog, said the “president’s challenge, as so often, was to make a human connection. In that, he succeeded tonight. He paid tribute to the individuality of the lost, honored the pain of the bereaved, and was crucial in bringing together the collective community acknowledgement of grief that is the only available comfort to those who mourn.”
Philip Klein of the conservative American Spectator opined that “for his first time in office, Barack Obama sounded like the president of all Americans.”
Obama, a father of two young girls, choked up while speaking of the inexplicable death of a nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, in the Tucson shootings.
As the country mourns the victims and looks ahead, the president invoked his vintage calls for transcending partisanship, indirectly urging political adversaries to refrain from assigning blame upon each other.
“[W]hat we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” Obama said. “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 us 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 our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
“I believe we can be better.”