While conservatives were fulsome in their praise in the immediate wake of President Obama’s speech this past Wednesday, with distance a little more clarity emerges. And speaking of distance, Byron York writes:
By the time he spoke in Tucson, Obama had let four days pass while some of the angriest voices in the media — his supporters — either blamed Republicans directly for the killings or blamed the GOP for creating the atmosphere in which the violence took place. During those four days, the president could have cooled the conversation by urging everyone to avoid jumping to conclusions, as he did the day after the November 2009 massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas. But he didn’t. Only after Loughner’s insanity had been indisputably established did Obama concede that politics was not to blame for the shooting.
By then, however, the president’s supporters had tied the killings to the issue of political rhetoric. In Tucson, Obama played good cop to their bad cop by assuring everyone that rhetoric had not motivated the violence. But he still brought up the topic because, he said, it had “been discussed in recent days.” Of course, it would not have been discussed in recent days had his supporters not made so many unfair accusations.
Some Democratic strategists hope Obama can capitalize on Tucson the way Bill Clinton capitalized on Oklahoma City. Perhaps he’ll be able to, and perhaps he won’t. But he’s already trying.
He blew it when he decided to speak in a huge auditorium full of young people. Obama has given speeches before. He knows what happens in them. Listeners break in with whoops and applause.When the Challenger crashed in 1986, President Reagan cancelled his State of the Union speech, which was to take place that night, and instead delivered an address from the Oval Office, directly to America via television. Nothing interfered with his words, and his remarks movingly honored and mourned the lost astronauts. Some commentators say Obama appeared taken aback when the students began cheering. If so, he could have stopped them easily. Mario Cuomo — a great speaker — used to hold his palm out like a traffic cop to silence audiences, because he knew applause breaks the rhythm. If Obama were skilled at thinking on his feet, he would have strayed from his prepared remarks and admonished the audience, “Please remember that this a memorial service and behave accordingly.”
I think Obama’s handlers chose to hold the event in front of students because they knew that collegians are one of his most loyal constituencies so he’d be guaranteed a warm welcome. They got a bit more than they wished for.
Why did the students behave so shamefully, though? Some commentators have supposed that kids just don’t know their manners anymore. I don’t think that’s quite right. If a local clergyman or any other non-famous person had given the same speech, I think they would have listened respectfully. (OK, a lot of them would have been checking their smartphones, but they would at least have been quiet.) I think they were what they appeared to be — genuinely pumped up by the occasion.
It isn’t often that the world’s biggest celebrity stops by your place and makes you the center of the national attention. Moreover, every young Democrat present knew the legend about how President Bill Clinton’s political fortunes rebounded after his Oklahoma City speech. The students were thinking like every pundit: about the ultimate political fallout from Tucson. But in trying to create an atmosphere that would goose the approval ratings of their hero, they acted with the level of maturity suggestive of another campus idol — Kanye West. They turned the president into Taylor Swift, and nobody remembers anything Taylor Swift said.
As Smith notes, Obama calls for civility are a non-sequitur anyhow:
I don’t look to the president for moral tutelage (you manage the country, I’ll manage my soul, thanks) but even if I did, the point is a non-sequitur. There is simply no connection between a massacre carried out by a lunatic and how nice you and I are to each other — our “moral imagination,” our “empathy,” our resolve to talk politics in “healing” rather than “wounding” terms. You could spend the rest of your life working in a soup kitchen while carefully excising all hyperbole and metaphors from your speech, but your efforts are not going to stop psychotic killing rampages.
But then every president and his supporters debate the pros and cons of what the New Republic dubbed in 2009 “civility shtick.”