I’m struck by the words of Representative Gabrielle Giffords’s Brother-in-law, Commander Scott Kelly, currently aboard the International Space Station. In an address to Mission Control after the shooting of Ms. Giffords, he said:
We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not.
These days, we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions, but also with our irresponsible words.
We’re better than this. We must do better.
Last night, President Obama delivered a moving eulogy for the deceased at McKale Center in Tucson that echoed this sentiment. Media outlets are saying, “Obama Recaptures His 2004 Voice,” and “Obama Re-introduces the Human Element to the Giffords Tragedy.” In fact, the President managed to bring Commander Kelly’s point back down to earth by focusing on the one thing we can all agree on: the ideals and expectations of our world through the eyes of a nine year-old.
Much ado has been made about the tone of the political rhetoric following the Tucson massacre. It happened almost immediately, as if it were a loaded mousetrap and someone went for the cheese. In our desperation to cope with the tragic events, we searched for reasons why and wound up focusing on the language that has been used over the last couple of years in regard to our partisan politics.
The left quickly jumped on the map of contested districts (including Gifford’s) that were “targeted” as potential Tea Party wins. The map employed rifle scope crosshairs to indicate the districts. Even Giffords herself cautioned that there could be consequences from using such imagery. Palin countered a few days later saying that the killer was apolitical and suddenly the term “blood libel” re-entered the lexicon. This turned out to be another unfortunate choice of words that conservatives used without knowing the full meaning of the phrase. Blood libel is the centuries old false phraseology for accusing Jews of using Christian baby blood in their rituals. Giffords is Jewish.
Also referenced was Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies” comments. One of the more interesting things that occurred last night, however, was Jon Stewart’s interview with Governor Tim Pawlenty on the Daily Show. Stewart, a longtime advocate for reasonable discourse, posited to Pawlenty that the rhetoric does not match the reality, that governance hasn’t changed that much since the Bush administration but that the amped up war of words would lead one to believe that the apocolypse was upon us. Pawlenty’s reaction was a bit lukewarm.
Pundits and critics alike on both the left and the right have hurled accusations of blame at each other in the days following the shooting. Critics perhaps thought the President’s presentation would be stiff and elitist but last night’s speech proved that he may actually be the adult in the room. He calmly assured everyone that our nation of 300 million people are like one big family. Families have disagreements but we all have commonalities as well and in order to move forward, we have to find that common ground rather than put each other down because we have different beliefs.
Presidents are often judged by their choice of words in a time of crisis. The Gettysburg Address, FDR and the Infamy speech, Kennedy and “Ask not what your country can do for you,” Reagan, Clinton, and even George W. Bush at ground zero. I think this eulogy in Tucson will be one of the defining moments in President Obama’s and America’s history.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the name of McKale Center. We regret the error.
- Obama Re-introduces the Human Element to the Giffords Tragedy (Huffington Post)
- Obama Recaptures his 2004 Voice (MSNBC.com)
- Astronaut Husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords: There’s ‘Little That We Can Do But Pray’ (space.com)
- “We are better than this; we must do better” (patryansblog.com)
- Video: Giffords’ Astronaut Brother-in-Law Issues Statement from Space (littlegreenfootballs.com)
- Reflections on Obama’s Speech in Tucson (Five Thirty Eight/NT Times)