Obama Delivers Powerful Speech Honoring Arizona Shooting Victims

In the wake of the Arizona tragedy, the president inspires the country and the survivors with his words

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As former U.S. presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did before him, President Obama found himself in the unenviable position of having to serve as the nation’s healer in chief on Wednesday night. In this case, however, he also faced the additional challenge of having to strike a fine balance between honoring the shooting victims and survivors and invoking the need to reset the tone of public discourse.

Addressing an audience of more than 13,000 people gathered at the University of Arizona, Obama eulogized each of the six people who died as a result of Saturday’s rampage, recalling something special about each one, such as Dot Morris, whose husband of 50 years unsuccessfully tried to shield her from the bullets, and Judge John Roll’s 40 years of service to the nation’s legal system. But as the father of two daughters with whom he shares an extraordinary closeness, Obama appeared to feel and speak most profoundly about nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green who, he said, “showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age.” He also praised the heroes of that tragic day who braved the chaos to tackle the gunman and helped save lives.

“Their actions, their selflessness poses a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward. How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?” the president asked.

There is no way of knowing exactly what provoked Jared Lee Loughner’s senseless behavior, nonetheless, for the past several days there has been much finger pointing in the direction of outspoken conservatives like Rep. Michelle Bachmann (Minnesota) and Sarah Palin, who are fond of using gun references to target Democratic opponents. Obama acknowledged that “it is part of our nature to demand explanations,” but implored Americans to resist the urge to place partisan blame on either side of the political spectrum for being the spark that ignited Loughner.

“[W]hat we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility,” Obama said. “Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

The faces of the Arizona shooting victims

The president, whose approval ratings have inched back to the 50% mark in the past two months, has received widespread praise for the speech, most of which he wrote himself. “As I listened, it was clear that his speech was delivered to the broad segment of reasonable people in the country–not the haters who will turn it around on him,” said Dr. Larry Berman, a political scientist at the University of California, Davis. “They’re a minority, but he’s astute enough to recognize that the majority of people are in the middle of American politics.”

Even at the height of his popularity, nobody ever deemed Obama emotive; in fact, he has sometimes been criticized for being too cool and professorial. Dr. Robert Smith, a San Francisco State University political scientist, said that the president set absolutely the right tone. “He wasn’t emotional. It was an elegant and well-reasoned discourse that was not out of his character,” Smith said. “And he served his purpose of trying to bridge the differences between the right and the left, not just for this situation, but a little bit longer.”

Both Smith and Berman also were struck by the president’s near reverence for Christina, whom he recalled multiple times throughout his speech.

“He evoked memories of all the people killed but talked a lot about her dreams and aspirations and the whole notion of the nobility of public service,” Berman said. “It was very inspiring and Kennedyesque. It has been a long time since we’ve heard a president, and him specifically, talk like this.”

Only time will tell how much of an impact the Obama’s message will actually have or for how long, but according to Berman, it was a defining moment for his presidency. “We’ll have to see what happens tomorrow when politics as usual starts,” he said.
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  • I liked President Obama’s speech but I feel he should have started in a more sober way instead of starting out as if he was at a high school pep rally. In my opinion he should have began with addressing the nation on the issue of who is to blame issue. I would have put that part of the speech upfront. Then I would have eulogized the people who died and were injured and the heroes. Lastly, I would have ended the eulogy just like he did. The reason why I feel it would have been more effective this way is because people are hurting and there have been many rumors and accusations spread and I think he should have addressed this first. It just took me by surprise that he was smiling and laughing at the beginning.

    • Alfred Edmond Jr.


      It felt like a pep rally because it WAS a rally and a tribute, not a funeral, which is what eulogies are for. I am certain that the 6 people who were killed will be properly eulogized at their funerals (9-year-old Christina Taylor Green’s funeral has already been held).

      Obama’s speech was right on point for a tribute: to be hopeful, encouraging and faithful to an supportive of one another in the face of unimaginable tragedy and senseless violence, and to show our gratitude and celebrate the heroism and selflessness of the survivors and those who put themselves in harms way to protect and save others.

      Assigning blame and responsibility for the tragedy is what the investigations (both legal and media) are for. This tribute was neither the time or place for that.

  • Pamela

    President Obama’s speech was truly exceptional alone with his eloquence sharing sympathy and concern to all.
    From his words I was able to feel the pain, the sadness and the grief shared by our President for the families and many loved one’s impacted by this tragedy.
    To the U.S., we must learn to live with each other with love for one another regardless of our outer and/or inner differences. No one truly thinks alike on every issue. We owe these wonderful differences to our Lord and Savior.
    Now to our President, I would like to say, Thank you President Obama for all of your hard work, genuineness, compassion, the love for your family and the love you show for this great country. President Obama, you represent us well! You make me proud that I am a voter!! Be blessed –Texas girl

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