Reactions to Obama's Tucson Speech

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At a memorial service on Wednesday evening for the victims of the recent shooting in Tucson, President Obama (text here) mourned the victims and addressed the climate of ugly political rhetoric both before and after the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. This morning, pundits are carefully parsing the speech and evaluating its meaning and impact. The reactions are almost exclusively positive, and the exceptions focus more on the event's atmosphere than the actual speech. Here's what they're saying.

  • Call for Civility  The New York Times' Helene Cooper and Jeff Zeleny write, "The president directly confronted the political debate that erupted after the rampage, urging people of all beliefs not to use the tragedy to turn on one another. He did not cast blame on Republicans or Democrats, but asked people to 'sharpen our instincts for empathy.'"
The standard comparisons of the past four days have been to Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster and Bill Clinton after Oklahoma City. Tonight's speech matched those as a demonstration of 'head of state' presence, and far exceeded them as oratory -- while being completely different in tone and nature. They, in retrospect, were mainly -- and effectively -- designed to note tragic loss. Obama turned this into a celebration -- of the people who were killed, of the values they lived by, and of the way their example could bring out the better in all of us and in our country. That is to Obama's imaginative credit.
  • Spiritual Themes Dominated  The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne predicts that the "calls to more respectful ways of doing politics ... will probably draw the lead sentences and headlines. But I came away thinking much more about the speech's religious and (if it's not too grand a word to use) existential moments." He adds, "Obama often touched on spiritual themes before he became president, and then largely backed away from them in his first two years of office. In struggling to find hope in tragedy, he was brought back to that ground Wednesday night."
  • The Obama of 2008 Is Back  The New York Times' Gail Collins welcomes it. "We've been complaining for two years about the lack of music and passion in his big speeches. But if he'd moved the country when he was talking about health care or bailing out the auto industry, perhaps his words wouldn’t have been as powerful as they were when he was trying to lift the country up after the tragedy in Tucson," she writes. "Following the president’s lead, I would argue that Congress has the capacity for higher purpose."
  • Dissent: Too Branded  "Yes," Michelle Malkin gasps, " the Tucson massacre is being branded." She cites the "together we thrive" logos that appear on Tucson buses and on t-shirts handed out by University of Arizona campus volunteers. She asks, "Will there be giant foam fingers and blue cotton candy, too? Isn’t the churning of the instant messaging machine a bit, well, unseemly? Can't the Democrat political stage managers give it a break just once?" She concludes, noting that the branding appears to have been a university decision, not an Obama move: "right speech. Too late. Awful, awful venue."
From the schedule and the initial advance work, I expected this memorial to be an atrocity. I think I had every reason to. A snappy title, a campaign-like logo in Obama's campaign colors, campaign-like teeshirts distributed on every seat. And I could wish that someone had said 'Please stop the cheering. Have some respect.' But somehow, I don't know if they had to go to a temp agency or what, the Obama people found a grownup to write the speech, This one time, Obama managed to sound like he thought he was President, not of his constituency, but of everyone.
  • Found 'Human Connection'  "The president's challenge, as so often," Former Bush speechwriter David Frum writes, " 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."
  • 'Let's Roll' ... To Newly Civil Discourse  Slate's David Weigel liked it because it "takes a long time to get to politics, pays much attention to the victims, and gives us our marching orders from Christina Taylor Green. That bit reminds me of Bush's evocation of Todd Beamer after 9/11."

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