Obama's Lincolnesque Speech
The president took the high ground at the Arizona memorial for the massacre victims -- and reminded us that he can be a powerful unifying force.
Conservatives surely have a point when they complain that liberals have been too quick to attribute the tragedy in Tucson to their heated partisan verbiage. Yet liberals are on solid ground when they point out that inflamed rhetoric can have disastrous consequences.
In these times, those dangers lurk mostly on the right. As George Packer wrote in the New Yorker, "Only one side has made the rhetoric of armed revolt against an oppressive tyranny the guiding spirit of its grassroots movement and its midterm campaign. Only one side routinely invokes the Second Amendment as a form of swagger and intimidation, not so coyly conflating rights with threats. Only one side's activists bring guns to democratic political gatherings."
But in yesterday's speech, Obama was high-minded -- and shrewd enough not to dwell on those particulars. He chose, instead, to bring words of inspiration and healing so poignant and fitting that Lincoln would have approved. It was a reiteration of the uplifting, unifying spirit that made Obama famous and got him elected -- and the electrifying image of the nation as "an American family 300 million strong" a ringing reaffirmation of the essentially religious idea that triumph can arise from tragedy.
Obama seems to believe, and perhaps he is correct, that he should say and do the right thing and, for a tragic moment like this, let the politics take care of itself. Although the parlous state of our civic debate may have left him with no other choice, he handled a daunting challenge brilliantly.
Jack White is a frequent contributor to The Root.