On a day, when Sarah Palin tried to play shadow president, Barack Obama demonstrated what a true president does at a time of sorrow and crisis. While Palin obsessed over blood libel, 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.”
Obama elevated the national dialogue to a higher level, “You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.”
The President called for healthy healing dialogue, “But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – 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 think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds. Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.”
Obama laid no political blame on anyone for the violence, “For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. So yes, we must 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 violence in the future.”
The President urged the nation to become more humble and less divided, “But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. 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 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.”
Obama called on the nation to reflect on the past and the future, “So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.
The President noted that we see ourselves in the victims of the shooting, “That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.”
Towards the end of his remarks, Obama concluded with a message of hope, “I believe we can be better. 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.”
President Obama’s message was the exact opposite of what Sarah Palin delivered earlier in the day. While Palin delivered a message of self-pity that assigned blame and pointed fingers, Obama not only comforted the nation, but also provided us with hope. The President asked to look beyond our pain and reflection and to believe in the decency and goodness of our country and its people. These remarks were what we have come to expect from this president.
If Sarah Palin is the pessimist who sees darkness and evil all corners, Barack Obama is the optimist who always believes that America can and will get better. Palin prays on the weaknesses in the American character, while Obama reinforces the good in us. Before Obama spoke this evening, I went back and watched former President Clinton’s remarks at the Oklahoma City bombing memorial. I was expecting President Obama to walk along the same path that Clinton did, but this president offered something different.
Clinton gave the nation emotional comfort after a terrible tragedy. Obama gave the nation hope and a direction tonight. It is his strong believe in the American spirit that makes President Barack Obama stand out, and in times of tragedy, when sadness and darkness, fill our eyes and possess our thoughts, the country needs to hear that America will emerge from this time stronger and better than before. This belief in America has made Obama the right person to occupy the White House at this time in our history.
As Obama heals the nation’s wounded heart, Sarah Palin spent the day trying to divide us. While Barack Obama thought about his country, Sarah Palin spent the day doing damage control, and floating ridiculous and selfish death threat stories to the media. Sarah Palin can’t understand what President Obama instinctively does. This moment in our history is not about her. It is about a senseless tragedy that has forced us to examine our political discourse. President Obama gets it. Sarah Palin never will.