I got up yesterday morning and watched President Obama’s speech at the Tucson memorial on Wednesday. There is no doubt our President is a great orator. His well-planned speech was powerful in its timely and upbeat message. Perhaps that’s exactly what the citizens of Tucson needed.
The polarization between the right and the left became evident as this national tragedy unfolded. Some on both sides were quick to turn the horror into a political event. To his credit, the president tried to be very clear, placing the blame for this crime squarely at the feet of the lunatic who pulled the trigger. He cautioned against pointing fingers and blaming each other for this act of lunacy.
Still, the tone and atmosphere of this ‘Event’ was somewhat distasteful. I listened to all of the President’s Thirty-Three minute speech and then started reading the rhetoric from the left and right responding to it. A few things jumped out immediately. I read somewhere, surely a conservative viewpoint, that the memorial played out as more of a pep rally or stop along the campaign trail, complete with blue tee shirts and cheering crowds. Someone else said they were actually giving away these blue tee-shirts at the event. Frankly, I didn’t believe it. I thought, surely they have better sense. Tee-shirts should be reserved for rock-concerts and Nascar races, beaches and bars, but not memorial services.
This picture from azcentral.com shows a volunteer neatly folding the shirts across one of the nearly 14,000 seats in the University of Arizona’s McKale Memorial Center. (Is it ironic that the volunteer setting out the blue shirts is wearing a red one?) When listening to his speech, I noticed the constant interruption of the cheering crowds which added to the pep rally feel. The whole thing left me feeling a bit uneasy. Obama had the right words, but the venue and presentation kind of sucked.
I recall what one of the President’s closest advisors, Rahm Emanuel, said, “Never let a serious crisis go to waste.” It appears the men in blue wasted no time using this crisis as an opportunity to shore up Obama’s shrinking popularity. Should the President have spoken publicly about this tragedy? Absolutely! I look back at past presidents and how they handled speaking about tragic events.
President Franklin Roosevelt gave his “A day that will live in infamy..” speech before congress the day after Pearl Harbor. When the Space Shuttle Challenger fell from the sky, Ronald Reagan did not immediately book the Astrodome for a public memorial. He addressed the grief of the nation, one-on-one, looking each of us in the eye from the oval office as the Commander in Chief. When the Twin Towers fell, then President George W. Bush also spoke to us calmly and briefly from the White House to address the pain of a nation. Can you imagine the uproar if the President booked Carnegie Hall for the address, and gave out tee-shirts? He would’ve been crucified.
I remember another Democratic memorial turned campaign stop when the Clintons showed up at Senator Paul Wellstone’s memorial. That event had a circus like atmosphere with a sea of blue and party leaders massaging their individual political agendas and encouraging politicians to “Tone down the rhetoric.”
Some on the left said the atmosphere and tone was likely set by the University and had nothing to do with the Democratic party, that college students just don’t know how to act in the face of something like this. I am reminded of the days following the Virgina Tech shootings and how the students and the president set a respectful tone at that venue. If you want to see how a memorial is supposed to be, go look at that video:
Someone suggested to me recently that I post something political. My response at the time went something like: “Politics tend to divide people and I don’t want the Prodigal Scribe to be divisive, shoving people farther apart; I want to post topics that can bring us closer together and treat each other better, maybe give someone a chuckle or smile along the way. Not much to smile about in the political arena these days.”
This may be the last political post you ever get from me, so use it wisely. I look back on this event with sad eyes knowing that somewhere along the way someone chose to use tragedy to a political end, and that just left a terribly bad taste in my mouth.
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.” ~Groucho Marx