At Fort Hood, Obama Wins Praise as Eulogizer-in-Chief

President Obama's Fort Hood speech may have been his best

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President Obama addressed the soldiers and families at Ft. Hood on the eve of Veterans Day. The Texas military base was in grief after Army Major Nidal Hasan allegedly opened fire last week, killing thirteen people. In his first national speech of mourning, observers said Obama needed to honor the fallen without political pretense, while acknowledging that the tragedy could be related to America's wars. Commentators think this speech was among his best. At a time of great need, it served to some as a reminder of the healing power of oratory:

  • I'm Having a Chris Matthews-Chill-Running-Up-My-Leg Moment  At The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder says the president makes for a comforting and able leader in a time of grieving. "Sometimes, the man, the moment and the words come together and meet the challenge," he wrote. "Obama had to lead a nation's grieving; he had to try and address the thorny issues of Islam and terrorism; to be firm; to express the spirit of America, using familiar, comforting tropes in a way that didn't sound trite."
  • This Is Why Obama Is More Popular Than His Policies  At The Washington Post, Chris Cillizza says Obama knows how to employ his gift as an orator when it matters most. "Will the speech fundamentally re-shape the political dynamic? Nope. But, it should serve as a reminder of Obama's considerable gifts as an orator and how he has learned to leverage those gifts at critical moments during the 2008 campaign (Rev. Wright) and now as president with this speech."
  • Nation of Critics  At Time Magazine, David Von Drehle says that the real purpose of Tuesday's speech, and more importantly, memorial, was drowned out by politics and punditry. And Drehle says this makes the nation even more removed from the Ft. Hood tragedy.

Is this line a signal about future troop levels? Is that paragraph a veiled play for bipartisan support on health care? Is the tone appropriately pastoral in this section and sufficiently martial in the next? TV's original power was its immediacy, its you-are-there quality. More and more, it seeks instead to mediate. A nation of citizens is invited to become a culture of critics.

For this reason, distant viewers were even more removed from the estimated 15,000 soldiers and civilians who gathered under clear Texas skies to hear the prayers, hymns and speeches in person. While their grief was more hard-earned, their experience was more authentic. They waited for the beginning of the service in appropriate silence — a fact the television commentators could hardly stop talking about.

  • A Speech For the Afghanistan Generation  John Dickerson of Slate Magazine says the address was a "song" for Obama's generation, and the post-Baby Boomer generation who are fighting the war in Afghanistan.
In a sense, the president was addressing his remarks to more than just the assembled crowd. His speech was a song to an entire generation: his generation. The first president of the post-Baby Boomer generation was making the claim for the men and women he commands, a host of whom he will send into Afghanistan in the coming weeks. "We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes."
  • Is Obama Convinced Hasan Was a Terrorist?  At ABC News, George Stephanopoulos thinks he has. "Here the President seems to have judged that Hasan was not criminally insane, but a political terrorist – twisted, to be sure – but acting consciously, driven to 'murderous and craven' acts by a perverted reading of the Muslim faith. And how about this conscious effort to equate today’s military with 'the greatest generation.'"
  • Obama Gains Legitimacy  Rob Reynolds of Al Jazeera says that "in the past, presidents have seized the opportunity of a shared moment of national shock or grief to strengthen their role as a leader and unifier." And he says that "for a President who has had difficulty convincing a substantial minority of Americans that he is a legitimate leader, it is an opportunity to live up to one of the roles of Chief Executive in the television age: that of Consoler in Chief."
  • Obama Won't Protect America  At The National Review, Andy McCarthy says Obama's refusal to acknowledge the role of Islamic extremism in the shooting is emblematic of a president who isn't prepared or willing to protect the United States from terrorism. "No one is saying that all Muslims follow Hasan's construction of Islam, but hundreds of millions do and they have scriptures to back up their beliefs — scriptures we could all read if we'd just pull our heads out of the sand. To deny that is to deny reality. A country can't be protected by people who lack the will to face reality."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.