Two events were held concurrently at the University of Arizona in Tucson on Wednesday night.
One of them was a memorial service for the dead and wounded from Jared Loughner’s rampage on Saturday. This event went quite well. The other was an embarrassing political pep rally, held before a mob of rowdy kids whose cell phone numbers were likely harvested by the Obama campaign at rock concerts in 2008.
There were some weird touches, like the rambling Indian ceremony performed at the beginning. No matter how authentic it might have been, it felt oddly ad-libbed. The university president hosting the speech seemed like he really wanted to leave the memorial service and join that pep rally.
The undisciplined audience was bad enough to provoke criticism from observers across the political spectrum, and that leads to some questions. It is said that the event organizers cannot be blamed for the behavior of the crowd. Is that really true? They staged this thing like a pep rally, complete with rush-week T-shirts bearing the rock-concert name of the event, “Together We Thrive.” Organizers could have prepared the crowd by insisting on silence during the speeches, and making sure the kids understood the gravity of attending a memorial service that would be viewed by the entire world.
One of the most emotional moments came when President Obama departed from his script to announce that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes… and he proceeded to work the line with hallelujah fervor, repeating it several times to juice up the crowd. There doesn’t seem to have been much effort to engineer an atmosphere of solemn dignity.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer brought some gravity to the proceedings, and was the first and only speaker to clearly describe what happened last Saturday, calling the attack “one man’s act of darkness.” Other speakers, including the President, carried on as if Jared Loughner rolled into that grocery store parking lot on a mission to suppress free speech. His goal was not to intimidate some portion of America into silence. He was a murderous psychopath. Some people refuse to see the period at the end of that sentence.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave a terrific reading from the Book of Isaiah. Daniel Hernandez, the intern who acted quickly to save Giffords’ life in the moments after she was shot in the face, was charming in his humility and breathless energy.
The main event was President Obama’s speech, which was mostly excellent. He spoke movingly of the victims… from the love and courage of George Morris, who unsuccessfully tried to shield his wife Dot from the killer’s bullets, to the heartbreaking loss of nine-year-old Christina Green. Christina was born on 9/11, and her photo appeared in a book about the children born on that day, “Faces of Hope.” A wish written beside her photo reads “I hope you jump in rain puddles,” and the President expressed his hope that Christina has found the rain puddles in Heaven. These words were clearly part of the memorial service, and served to silence the pep rally at last.
The most anticipated, and problematic, passage in the President’s speech was his call for a return to civility in politics. “What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” he declared. Sorry, Mr. President, but a vast segment of your supporters has already done that. Admonishing every part of the political spectrum to avoid “pointing fingers and assigning blame” is horribly disingenuous. Barack Obama is not a centrist wandering into a partisan squabble, and offering a hand of peace to both sides. He’s a hard-core liberal, and the hard Left has been doing all of the finger-pointing during this drama, beginning within minutes of the shooting.
Remember, this is the same President Obama who recently called the vicious partisan gasbag sheriff of Pima County, Clarence Dupnik, to congratulate him on a job well done. There is absolutely no evidence that Obama, or anyone from his Administration, told Dupnik to lay off his wacko theories about Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin inspiring Loughner to commit murder… theories he has loudly repeated in front of every television camera he can find.
There have been some attempts to compare the President’s speech with the videotaped message delivered by Sarah Palin this morning. It’s tough to compare a speech by the President of the United States, before a vast live and televised audience, with the remarks of a private citizen with uncertain political aspirations, but here is one of the most important differences: Palin didn’t pretend the last four days never happened.
There was never any political dimension to the awful story of a deranged loner who tried to assassinate a woman he was obsessed with, killing six other people in the attempt. The only reason we are discussing the nature of our discourse in connection with the case is because the Left manufactured that connection out of thin air.
There’s no reason Obama couldn’t have delivered this fine speech last Sunday, when it would have made a real difference. That would have been leadership. What we saw tonight was a solid performance. Those are two very different things.