President Obama was eloquent last night, solemn when he needed to be, uplifting when called for, and all the time thoughtful. He was as much priest as president in what was essentially a spiritual reflection on how people should conduct their lives and care for each other.
Said the president: "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. … Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle."
At a time when "we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do," Obama said, the killings should make Americans ask themselves "Have we shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to people in our lives?"
"I believe we can be better," the president said to a capacity crowd at the University of Arizona basketball arena — and to countless others watching across America. "Those who died here, those who saved lives here — they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us."
He finished with words likely to be remembered for some time to come
"Imagine for a moment: here 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 to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it."
The president reached beneath politics, into the soul of the nation and consciences of its people . The irony, of course, is that in so doing, in avoiding politics, he disabled his critics, at least momentarily, and re-established himself as a uniquely able presidential leader.