The conventional wisdom of the political week now seems to be: Barack Obama rose to the occasion, Sarah Palin didn’t.
I agree with the first part, that Barack Obama mostly did in his speech last night — even despite the odd environment. Sure, he was himself, with his views about us collectively, and he did go on. But he largely focused on the people affected, the people hurt, the people murdered. He appealed to the best in us and our traditions, and he even seemed to slap down his left flank a bit.
But I think Sarah Palin rose to the occasion, too. The story in Tucson, contrary to what I’ve been hearing over my shoulder on MSNBC all week, is not about Sarah Palin. She clearly saw an opportunity to say something — she probably felt a responsibility, given the promiscuous use of her name in four days of news coverage. She, too, talked about goodness and better days:
There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman. …
Let us honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded. And let us pray for our country. In times like this we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides. We need strength to not let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves, or weaken our solid foundation, or provide a pretext to stifle debate.
America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner, and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country. May God bless America.
It’s worth remembering, too, that Sarah Palin made the video because she was dragged into the story — because her silence was supposedly deafening — so it made sense for her to talk more specifically than the president did about the need for “the sacred dialogue of democracy” (as John Boehner called it) to live on, fearlessly. And she expressed confidence in Americans, which she does so well.
Both of them managed to take and offer comfort in the fact that there is more to life than politics. Both had very different roles to play. And I’m not sure it’s fair to compare his address to anyone else’s this week, because no one else is president right now.
And I don’t mean to be naïve, but I also think the beauty of the president’s speech was that it wasn’t political — even in the strange environment of the pep-rally memorial — and it’s probably a mistake to make it too much so in the analysis.