It may always be remembered for the unexpected news he delivered — “Gabby opened her eyes for the first time” — but here’s a key line: “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost. Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle. The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents.
“And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, it didn’t, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”
The cheers in the Tucson auditorium, filled with University of Arizona college students, jarred me at first. When Obama took the lectern, his tone somber, it was even annoying to hear the pep-rally like cheers start at his paused. But as his speech turned more hopeful, personalizing the lives of the victims and tying them to the goodness of the American character, the setting was fitting. We have pre-conceived notions of what a “memorial” speech should be, particularly from a politician.
Instead, Obama delivered something different, more spiritual speech that related to lives fulfilled with families and friends rather than material accomplishment, politics or policy. In so doing he tapped into the collective reaction to shooting victims, missed in so much of the debate, and the debate over the debate, afterward. He said, “We recognize our own mortality and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth or status or power or fame — but rather, how well we have loved and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”