Obama's Speech: A Memorial That Will Live in Memory

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There is a reason we have memorial services.

They are not for the dead, but for the living who, through communal and public expressions of grief and shared emotion, honor the lives of those who have passed, and the fleeting majesty of existence, which they recommit themselves to cherishing.

President Obama tonight in Arizona not only did what he needed to do, he did what the nation need him to do, which is to let its members -- like members of a dysfunctional family whose brittle cousins spent the last five days snapping at each other -- finally break down and feel, together, what they were really feeling, the full weight of awfulness of the national tragedy and crimes that were committed in Arizona.

And the value and values of the lives that were lost.

He began his speech, as he so often has begun speeches in the past, in a dry voice whose flat tone failed to fully communicate the import of the weighty words he spoke. And, then, toward the final third of his speech, his chin wobbled, his voice changed and he resonantly inhabited each word he relayed. He moved from professorial Obama to Obama the orator, the man who won America's vote and has too often been hidden of late behind the face of Barack Obama, worried head of state and hard-charging bureaucrat.

It was interesting to watch the debate on Twitter and on television, and to see complaints about the T-shirts handed out at the University of Arizona and about how loudly the crowd of students cheered give way to cheers of 140 characters or less from conservatives and liberals alike for Obama's speech.

Tomorrow, the cousins may renew their squabble.

But for tonight at least, and with an assist from their president, they grieved.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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