I had an opportunity on Sunday few journalists will have — I had the chance to see the president of the United States in person. No, it wasn’t a press conference or a personal interview, so I had no chance to actually ask him any questions. It was a memorial service for the 142, and counting, people who died in the EF-5 tornado which struck Joplin, Mo., just one week ago.
It was, in many ways, President Barack Obama’s stock speech. He thanked the people around him, promised the federal government would be there, and pulled out a couple of stories of local everyday folks — his (and pretty much any president’s) usual fare.
It was not a major policy speech, nor was it announcing some new initiative. No, this was simply a president comforting his people a week after an indescribable tragedy struck.
And that, I must say, he did well. I’m far from a fan of this president, and this speech did not by any stretch win me to his side. But one cannot help but be inspired by what the president said: “There’s no doubt in my mind that Joplin will rebuild. And as president, I can promise you your country will be there with you every single step of the way. We will be with you every step of the way. We’re not going anywhere. The cameras may leave. The spotlight may shift. But we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored and this community is back on its feet. We’re not going anywhere.” Certainly, most of the 2,000 people in the Taylor Performing Arts Center on the campus of Missouri Southern State University were inspired by his words.
Even as the president followed an established formula, the stories his speechwriters pulled out to illustrate the everyday heroism of Joplinites were not your usual fare.