President Obama in Tucson: Yes, He (Still) Can

At a time when we seem at greatest peril of ripping ourselves irreparably asunder, Barack Obama's deft rhetorical genius pulled us together yesterday in a way that perfectly symbolizes what the promise of America is all about.
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President Obama's address at the University of Arizona in Tucson will go down as a signature moment of presidential oratory.

Just as in his electrifying maiden speech at the 2004 Democratic convention and in the March, 2008 Philadelphia allocution on race that saved his severely wounded presidential campaign, Barack Obama once again stepped into the breach and demonstrated the best single aspect of his leadership persona.

And once again, at a time when we seem at greatest peril of ripping ourselves irreparably asunder, his deft rhetorical genius pulled us together in a way that perfectly symbolizes what the promise of America is all about.

Mr. Obama used this address to accomplish three vital objectives:

1. Validating the victims. The national and international press focused overwhelmingly on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' shooting. The result was a paucity of coverage of the other 13 wounded Americans, including the six who lost their lives. By structuring his address around vignettes of those six, the President provided due respect and regard for their memories and cast them as American heroes. By putting the spotlight on them and not on politics, he served the nations' greatest need: to be one nation, indivisible.

2. De-fanging the dividers. President Obama challenged Americans from all walks of life to "talk in a way that heals not in a way that wounds." And while some TV talking heads initially launched themselves right back into the fray, by the time most of the commentary from around the nation started hitting newspaper websites and political blogs, the course had indeed shifted, with most commentary underscoring one of the President's most impactful lines:

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives -- to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.

3. Rallying the remainder. The speech's most powerful sections focused on the youngest victim, nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, whose tragically short life began on the fateful day of September 11, 2001. His cracking voice belying the now-famous "Obama cool", the President had to be thinking of his own nine-year-old daughter as he weaved the story of the inherent optimism, hope and zest for life that Christina showed as a dancer, a gymnast and as the lone female on her little-league baseball team:

(Christina) was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

Personal, purposeful and pitch-perfect!

President Obama has always been at his best when he hits these kind of broad, visionary, unifying themes, and it is inexplicable why lost the ability to do so the last 18 months. Indeed, many were openly questioning whether he could ever inspire in that special way again.

To his credit, to the benefit of the families of those lost in Tucson and to the benefit of the nation as a whole, he showed last night that, yes, he can.

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