In Tucson, Obama Hits A “Home Run”
“I believe we can be better,” Obama said at the memorial event, "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America,” at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “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. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”
Obama focused heavily on remembering and honoring the victims.
"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," he said.
Allan Hoffenblum, publisher of the California Target Book, a non-partisan publication that analyzes legislative races, and a former GOP political consultant, said the president gave “his most effective performance since he was elected.”
“This is the first speech I’ve heard since he was running for president that I think he actually made an emotional impact on the audience he was talking to,” he said noting that the president was successful in not sounding like a “Harvard professor.” “[H]e could actually emote, actually have some empathy and actually articulate what most Americans wanted their president to say. I think he accomplished that.”
Though grayer than two years earlier, the president “far exceeded expectations” and channeled much of the charisma and swagger he had in his 2008 campaign, Hoffenblum said.
Another echo of 2008 was seen in Obama’s word choices.
“He used the word ‘hope’ (or a variation) 8 times,” tweeted National Journal Group’s Editor-in-Chief Rob Fournier. “Not just part of Obama's 2008 campaign, Hope is a key ingredient of the American story.”
Democratic strategist Bill Carrick said Obama was “presidential, thoughtful and not part of any kind of political partisan polarized debate that we’ve seen so much of in the last few days in the blogosphere, cable, radio and what not.”
“I thought he did an excellent job of comforting the community,” Carrick said. “People want to see the president bring the country together, want to see him unify people and express tenacious grief about this horrible tragedy and that’s what he did.”
Reactions on Twitter and cable news channels including CNN and Fox appeared to be resoundingly positive.
Stephen Hayes, a senior writer for The Weekly Standard and a Fox News Contributor tweeted, “President Obama gave an exceptional speech. Empathetic, moving, strong, optimistic. Important.”
Mother Jones’ Washington Bureau Chief David Corn tweeted, “Overall impression: a very positive moment & a reminder of O's considerable abilities.”
Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast tweeted, “There is no question that Obama has risen to the occasion with a healing speech.”
Albert N. Milliron, managing editor of Politisite.com, tweeted, “This is the Obama I remember from 2004 when he reflected we are not black America or White America, we are the United States of America.”
Carrick said comparisons to Bill Clinton’s Oklahoma City moment are “overwrought” and looking at what Obama stands to gain is “just speculation.”
In his speech, Obama noted that Saturday’s tragedy should not be politicized. “What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” Obama said.
“Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us 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.”
Carrick said Obama came across as genuine and not trying to give a political speech “in any way, shape or form.”
Experts noted two particular high points of the president’s speech: when he said Rep. Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time this afternoon and when he eulogized 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed Saturday.
"Imagine -- 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 some day she, too, might play a part in shaping her nation’s future," Obama said. "She had been elected to her student council. She saw public service as something exciting and 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. (Applause.) I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. (Applause.) All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
On CNN, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley said Obama’s tone had a “Martin Luther King-like inflection” when he described Giffords opening her eyes repeating “Gabby opened her eyes” four times.
The Obama administration has long been deplored for its public relations strategies. Many argue that one of the biggest failures of the 44th president two years in has been his inability to articulate what his office has accomplished.
“He hit a home run,” Hoffenblum said. “I thought that Barack Obama represented America and represented his citizens and did his job very, very effectively. I thought it was very moving.”