I Doubt I’ll Be Saying This Often, So . . . ‘Kudos, Mr. President.’
Here’s a morning jolt for you: Last night, President Obama actually gave a terrific speech.
Oh, we’ll be able to quibble with a point or two — the venue, in retrospect, was a terrible choice — but the President and his speechwriters actually hit all of the right notes on a tough night in a politically charged atmosphere. Obama has been president for two years, but last night might have been the first time he was indisputably presidential.
The presidency is, thankfully, more than just a political position, a series of appearances urging Americans to support the passage of this bill or confirmation of this nominee or to do this or that. It is also that of a truly national leader, and that means that when it hits the fan, all eyes are on the president. He is the only man in an office that every American votes for, and the expectation is that when the unexpected strikes out of the blue, he will talk us through the triumphs and tragedies and ordeals of the times. Sometimes you get to be president when the first man walks on the moon, or when we celebrate the bicentennial or witness the fall of the Berlin Wall. Sometimes you get 9/11 or the Challenger disaster or Oklahoma City. In the right hands, the presidency can be a strikingly intimate office; think of all the Americans who felt like they knew Ronald Reagan, even though they never met him.
For Obama, the scale of this horrific loss of life was not as great as some others, but supremely morally troubling nonetheless: how do we make sense of this world when the life of a 9-year-old can be randomly, cruelly cut down by a disturbed man obsessed with grammar? How do we overcome despair when one man can inflict so much pain on so many?
The quibbles? Well, for starters, it could have been two-thirds the length and been every bit as powerful. The commentators on Fox News Channel praised the speech, but Chris Wallace noted it was three times as long as Reagan’s speech after the Challenger disaster and twice as long as Clinton’s after Oklahoma City and Bush’s after 9/11.
As I was appreciating it, I wondered if I was alone in liking it. I wasn’t. Rich: “The pep-rally atmosphere was inappropriate and disconcerting, but President Obama turned in a magnificent performance. This was a non-accusatory, genuinely civil, case for civility, in stark contrast to what we’ve read and heard over the last few days. He subtly rebuked the Left’s finger-pointing, and rose above the rancor of both sides, exactly as a president should. Tonight, he re-captured some of the tone of his famous 2004 convention speech. Well done.”
At Hot Air, Allahpundit notes that perhaps the most significant comments weren’t in the prepared text: “Two noteworthy ad libs to bear in mind before you proceed to the key passages below. First, in the speech’s best moment, he mentioned that Giffords opened her eyes today for the first time. And second, right after the line “it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy,” he punctuated it with “it did not.” He’s not playing the “climate of hate” game here, in other words. On the contrary.” He conducts a quick Twitter-survey and notes, “for what it’s worth, this is playing remarkably well thus far among righties on Twitter: Rich Lowry, Jonah Goldberg, Jim Geraghty, Andy Levy, S.E. Cupp, Philip Klein, and Ace’s own co-bloggers Drew and Gabe all thought it was rock solid.”
In addition, Erick Erickson summarized it, “a very good speech by the President with a nice rebuke to his own side for engaging in the blame game.”
Of course, Allahpundit also wondered if liking the president’s speech will become “the new RINO litmus test.”
The Ace of Spades was left deeply disappointed, though: “He doesn’t so much make accusations as continue to pander to deranged leftists who insist that Sarah Palin is an accomplice to murder. But who knows — given that the left is now determined to avenge the shootings via some eliminationist rhetoric and possibly actions of their own, maybe it’s helpful and will save lives. If he wants to make the left understand I mean you too he has to say so though, because of course otherwise they assume they can do no wrong. ‘We cannot use this occasion as one more reason to turn on each other.’ Nice thought, but I sure hope that at some point the word goes out I mean the left too. No… I tried to give him a break, but it’s the heavy implication this was a political attack (why else all the emphasis on disagreeing without being disagreeable?). Yup, trying to run the Bill Clinton 1995 playbook.”
I concur with Brian Preston’s criticism of the behavior of the audience, which ruined the speech for him: “The entire spectacle has been repugnant and unpresidential, more resembling a pep rally or basketball sendoff than a memorial. I kept expecting people in the crowd to wave giant foam fingers or call for the hot dog vendor. This event provided no healing, only boisterous cheers drowning out what’s left of public decorum. There was one good moment, when the heroes who saved Rep. Giffords’ life hugged her husband. But the rest was farcical, off note, inappropriate and grating. Future politicos, please heed this advice. Never hold a memorial service in a university arena, and never give out T-shirts prior to the event. Those two choices set the tone for this entire spectacle. Some will excuse the bizarre atmosphere or blame it entirely on those in the audience to deflect attention from the president. But the president’s team had the final call on everything. They could have demanded a more suitable setting, and set a more appropriate tone. They didn’t. This gauche spectacle is the Obama administration’s fault. The tone of the event overshadowed whatever good words of comfort and honor were in his lengthy speech.”
Jedediah Bila reminds us all not to fall in love over one speech, always worthwhile advice: “In 2008, America voted in a President whose speeches impressed them. Don’t judge a man by his speeches. Judge him by his actions.” Indeed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say, “nice speech.”