Obama and Palin: Two Speeches on Tuscon

Is this a 2012 preview? If so, Republicans are worried

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President Obama and Sarah Palin both expressed deep sympathy for the victims of the Tuscon shooting Wednesday. But the similarities between their speeches stop there. It was hard, for some observers, not to see the dueling messages as a preview of 2012 if Palin decides to make a run for the White House.

In fact, The New York Times' Michael Shear points out, Wednesday provided a rare opportunity for political watchers. "Unless--or until--Ms. Palin runs for president and wins the Republican nomination, there are not likely to be many single days in which the two very different politicians are on display in such dramatic ways," Shear writes. So how do the two speeches stack up?

  • 'A Tale of Two Speeches'  Palin's message, posted on Facebook early Wednesday morning, "captured with precision the bubbling anger and resentment that is an undercurrent of the national conversation about our public discourse," writes Shear. She began defending herself against "journalists and pundits," who had tied her infamous crosshairs map to Jared Lee Loughner's actions, less than two minutes into her speech. Her timing forced a comparison with the president, who had earlier announced he would be speaking in Arizona that day. Obama, by contrast, delivered a "plea for civility, love and compassion" before a jarringly rowdy crowd of 14,000. He received wild cheers from the crowd when he broke the news that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since she was shot in the head.
  • What Could Keep the GOP Out of the White House  Palin showed "she has little interest--or capacity--in moving beyond her brand of grievance-based politics," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes, while Obama showed "his ability to rally disparate Americans around a message of reconciliation. ... What few Republicans wanted to say for attribution--but what was manifestly clear--was that Palin had made Obama look even bigger than he was. Her argument for conflict-oriented politics lent itself as the near-ideal foil for his plea for civility. It was a clear contrast and, for Republicans, a dispiriting one."
  • Palin Speech Was About Her, Not the Victims, The Guardian's left-leaning Michael Tomasky argues. Meanwhile, Obama's "was not about him. It was about the victims, the heroes and the country. We had one leader yesterday, and one sulker. And I am sure that the sulker will only be reinforced in her sulking - the reaction to her speech is all the fault of the media, etc."
  • Perhaps This Killed Her 2012 Chances, The Washington Monthly's liberal  Steve Benen hopes. "Watching Palin yesterday morning, she looked caustic and small. Watching the president last night, he looked like a giant national leader, which in turn made Palin shrink even further, to the point at which she's hardly visible. And what a relief it would be if this turn of events made it that much more difficult to see her again going forward."
  • 'The Incredible Shrinking Palin' NBC News' Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg write. "If Palin has ambitions for the White House--and we’re still not sure she does -- then her tone, message, and timing from her eight-minute video was a serious miscalculation. Is this what happens when you live in a bubble? Is this what happens when you don't have advisers you trust that live outside her bubble? Palin's speech struck as a natural response only if she spent the last three days reading every nasty email and Tweet she received, and didn't extract herself from the story."
  • Republican Reaction  Liberals may be leading the charge on this one, but, as the Wire mentioned yesterday, conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin also thought Palin's message made her look "not serious, cert[ainly] not pres[edential." Meanwhile, Thursday morning's Playbook from Politico's Mike Allen carries the following nugget:
UNSOLICITED E-MAIL from one of the nation's top Republicans, with the subject line, "Potus Speech": "Changes everything. Reagan after the Challenger. He finally employed the symbolic power of the Presidency. And he did it perfectly."
  • Partly the Media's Fault, Politico's Ben Smith suggests. Sure, Palin provided "a useful counterpoint" for Obama. But so did the online media.
It was reasonable to explore the question of the political beliefs of a suspect in the shooting of a member of Congress. But by the time those explorations and course-corrections--which are how the new media works at its best--had lead pretty clearly to mental illness, the debate had already frozen into its dueling accusation and defensiveness that responded to every bit of incremental reporting as a point scored or lost. Obama's address in Tucson wasn't, mostly, a media critique, but it was our false steps, as well as Palin's, that made the backdrop to a speech whose tone ... drew near-universal praise.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.