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January 12, 2011

Reactions to Obama's Speech

President Obama gave one of his best speeches tonight -- one that was much more emotional and cathartic than anyone could expect. He rose above the bickering and finger pointing of the last few days and spoke to our higher values.

Most impressively, Obama walked a very delicate line of remembering the fallen while trying to draw broader lessons for the country. Referring to nine year old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed by the gunman last Saturday, Obama noted 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 she imagined it. All of us -- we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations."

Well said, Mr. President. That's exactly what we should do.

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Below are some other reactions:

Joshua Green: "My own impression is that he provided what had so far been missing from this tragedy: a response that dignified the memories of the victims and properly placed them at the forefront of public attention."

Andrew Sullivan: " I am glad that the president has said we should debate the manifold ways in which we can help prevent this from occurring again; but that we should debate these things in a way that is worthy of the victims, in a way that would make them proud. It's an elegant threading of a very small needle. Watching Christina Green's parents as the president speaks brings home the enormity of this crime. Making her brief nine years of life the focus for hope and inspiration is a lovely peroration."

James Fallows: "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."

Marc Ambinder: "By using the youngest victim of last week's rampage as his focal point, Obama made her America's cause and asked the nation to live lives as compassionate and caring as those felled by the gunman's bullets. Without wading into the who-coarsened-our-culture debate, he overshadowed it with a call to the better angels of our nature."

Garance Franke-Ruta: "President Obama tonight in Arizona not only did what he needed to do, he did what the nation need him to do, which is to let its members -- like members of a dysfunctional family whose brittle cousins spent the last five days snapping at each other -- finally break down and feel, together, what they were really feeling, the full weight of awfulness of the national tragedy and crimes that were committed in Arizona."

Jacob Heilbrunn: "There was a finality to Obama's speech, a lapidary effect that endowed it with humility and gravity. It would be hard to think of a more moving and dignified speech, particularly when set against the foil of Sarah Palin's creepy and self-absorbed effusions earlier today."

David Corn: "President Barack Obama's speech in Tucson was undeniably a high moment of his presidency. But you can judge that for yourself. (As the father of a nine-year-old daughter, I could not imagine delivering such an address--and keeping it together.)"

Michael Crowley: "These call to our better angels -- directed less at the secondary issue of public discourse and more at the first principles of what we value as a society and the nobility of public service, perfectly matched the heartbreaking occasion. All the better that Obama delivered these words with both lyrical eloquence and moral authority. It was certainly the finest rhetorical moment of his presidency -- and perhaps of his life."


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