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A Dignified President in a Tawdry Hall

Posted on January 13 2011 1:03 pm
J. Christian Adams is an election lawyer and former attorney in the Voting Section at the Department of Justice. He blogs about elections and the laws which affect them at
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Last night, President Obama delivered a pitch perfect speech in Tucson at the memorial service for the shooting victims.  It was full of measured reason.  He yanked the national discussion back to where it belongs.  “For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack,” he said, stating what is obvious to most Americans.

It is a shame those in the audience, and those planning the event, could not have followed the president’s lead.  While the president gave a dignified speech, he was surrounded by a tawdry and politicized atmosphere. 

A logo was produced for the event and t-shirts were passed out.  If that wasn’t bad enough, when various officials took the stage, hoots and hollers followed from the audience.  Women could be heard yelling “we love you” during the president’s address.  Naturally, not all politicians were cheered.  Republican Governor Jan Brewer was booed.

I cannot help but wonder if this nation has forever crossed a threshold where the profane and bombastic is acceptable, even at memorials for the dead.  Are quiet dignity and measured character a relic of yesteryear?  Are future memorial services to be tainted with trumpet flourishes, cheers for political friends and boos for political enemies?  From whence does this loss of national dignity come?

Only 25 years ago, hoots, hollering, boos and pomp would never be part of a memorial service.  I actually know someone who thinks the outrageous behavior at Senator Paul Wellstone’s funeral was perfectly acceptable.  For these apologists, ideology is their religion.  They have no other higher God.

A number of years ago, National Review did a piece on the “Best Conservative Movies.” On the list was the Oscar nominated “Metropolitan.” Mark Henrie opined in the piece that “Metropolitan” “manages the impossible: He brings us to see what is admirable and necessary in the customs and conventions of America’s upper class.”

Yesterday’s memorial service reminded me of Henrie’s review and what is “admirable and necessary” at such events.  It is inescapable that many Americans no longer know what is proper or improper.  The president’s words provided healing moderation and a dignified response to the heated debate of the last week.  Unfortunately, the spectacle around him spoke to the divide in our nation, except this time regarding proper decorum.  The memorial in Tucson also managed the impossible, it exposed a divide even in how our nation remembers the dead.

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