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President Obama Delivered A Moving Speech In Tuscon But Will He Live Up To Its Message?

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Posted on January 13 2011 12:00 pm

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In what I think was his best speech by far during his presidency, President Barack  Obama spoke movingly last night at the memorial service for the victims of last Saturday’s shooting massacre.  He touched on the lives of each of the slain and talked about how we can honor them by not using the tragedy to turn on each other.

Perhaps the high point of Obama’s speech was when he broke from his prepared remarks to share the news that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords opened her eyes Wednesday for the first time since Saturday’s shooting massacre.

Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes. Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you, she knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her.

One could not help but feel the emotion of that moment. And the president reached another emotional high point when he asked the country to live up to the imagination and ideals of the nine-year-old girl, Christina Taylor Green, who lost her life while going to meet Congresswoman Giffords.

In a pointed rebuke to some members of his own party and others on the Left who have been exploiting the shooting for political gain, President Obama made clear his belief that political rancor did not cause the tragedy. Nor should it be turned into a political wedge to further divide us:

For the truth is, none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.

Yes, we had to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.

But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.

As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s 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 that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

While acknowledging the reality of evil in this world which we cannot stop altogether, President Obama tried to summon the better angels of our nature, as Abraham Lincoln had put it in his first Inaugural Address.

Obama said:

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 pointed, as examples, to the acts of heroism by ordinary Americans such as the intern who helped to save Rep. Gifford’s life and those who may have saved other lives including the two men who wrestled Jared Loughner to the ground and the woman who seized his ammunition.

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