President Barack Obama challenged the nation to find a more civil and polite discourse to make the victims of the Arizona shooting proud of us.
The standing room only crowd at the memorial service for the victims of the January 8 shooting rose to their feet in a standing ovation when he challenged them to make the country live up to Christina-Taylor Green’s vision of what America is and could be.
University of Arizona McKale Center was full and millions joined via live television and web feed as the President recounted the tragedy and then called on the nation to determine “How can we honor the fallen? How can we be true to their memory?”
In a line directly in contrast with Sarah Palin’s statement from earlier in the day, the President acknowledged that the political discourse in the country is sharpland somewht angril divided. “But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds,” he said.
In her commentary earlier in the day, Palin argued that the political discourse of the country was no more violent than it was when politicians literally resorted to duels to resolve their difference, eluding possibly to the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, a former secretary of the treasury and the sitting vice president.
Obama addressed the questions regarding the cause of Saturday’s events only briefly, saying, “You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
Instead, he acknowledged the heroes of Saturday’s events and then called upon the nation to live up to the hopes of one nine-year-old girl.
“We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt.”
But we owe, as a people, to live up to the things that Christina believed in and believed about her nation.
“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, 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. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.”
Obama told the listening nation that he believes we can do better, “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”
Evoking the ties between Christina’s birth of September 11, 2001, and her tragic death on January 8, the President said, “Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. ‘I hope you help those in need,’ read one. ‘I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles.’
If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.
May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.”
The call for a more civil discourse came after Colorado Senator Mark Udall called earlier in the day for Republicans and Democrats to sit together, forgoing party boundaries, at the State of the Union address later this month in the hope of showing national unity.
In an unscheduled moment of the speech, the president announced the Rep. Giffords opened her eyes earlier in the day as doctors reduced her medication, allowing her to regain consciousness.