I was driving home from the airport when President Obama was speaking and so I got a different impression than perhaps others who watched it on television. My first impression was that it was a strange atmosphere for a speech about a tragedy. All the applause and congratulation seemed strangely out of touch with the tragedy that the speech was addressing. In many ways, I thought the memorial took on an almost festive, campaign type tone…Strange.
The first part of the speech where the President talked about each individual that had been affected by the tragedy I thought was very good – It put a human face on the tragedy and made us feel that we somehow knew the victims and heroes a little better – and could therefore more fully feel the loss. But then the President turned to lecturer in chief. He brought up and then dismissed the idea that the tone of our politics was somehow responsible for the tragedy. Having dismissed that idea, he proceeded to expound upon it… What?
If the tone of our national discourse had no relevance to the shootings, then why not drop it there?
This conservative believes the President just couldn’t let go of the opportunity to get a few shots in about the “tone” of our political debate. And to what point? If it had (as he said) nothing to do with the shootings, and this speech was about the shootings, what was the lecture for? The speech I thought was too long anyway; had he wrapped up at that point he would have come as close to a perfect speech as anyone could have expected… But he didn’t.
Sadly, he spoke for the most tragic figure, the nine year old child who was not there to speak for herself. I don’t know if she decried the “tone” of our politics, indeed I would suspect she was probably not aware of it. And he built a grand castle of rhetoric calling on us to live up to her expectations of us… But did he really know what her expectations of us were? It is always dangerous to speak for others when the “others” aren’t around to speak for themselves. While it is true that the tone of our politics is a little raw right now, it hardly is at historic heights. In many times in the past, citizens have taken to the streets, fistfights have broken out, and duels have been fought. Compared to those events, does the rhetoric we’ve seen over the past few months seem “historic”? I think not!
The bottom line is this conservative thinks the speech would have been much improved by dropping the lecture and sticking to personalizing the victims and heroes. If there was a call to action that could have been made (and I think this was the wrong venue for it) that call should have been to re-examine the ways we deal with the mentally ill in our society. There was a time when mentally ill people could be involuntarily committed. And there was a place to put them. If there was any call to be made, it would have been to call to re-examine that whole question. So in all I thought it was mostly a good speech that just narrowly missed being great. And that business of editing – what to leave out of a speech – is one of the most crucial aspects of an effective speech. May God help everyone involved in this tragedy heal…And may God call us as a society to look again at what we can do to/for/with the mentally ill – many of them homeless-that roam our streets. That might be the best lesson to take from this tragic event!