The idea that we can overcome our history and our baser instincts is the message great leaders send in times of tragedy and tension. It is the stuff of great speeches, and it is what President Obama gave the nation Wednesday night.
North Manchester, Ind.
There are few areas liberals and conservatives see eye to eye when it comes to Barack Obama. But both supporters and detractors agree: The president gives a good speech.
In the past few years, as the economy floundered and the administration charged forward with legislation too liberal for the right and too conservative for the left, Mr. Obama’s speaking skills seemed superfluous. Americans wanted results, not rhetoric.
But Wednesday night’s memorial service for the victims of the Tucson massacre reminds us how vital it is that the nation’s leader can give an inspirational speech. Though the national discourse devolved into finger-pointing and accusations of “blood libel” in the days after the shooting, Obama chose a different course. He urged Americans to “use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
Politicians and pundits, take note. This is what leadership looks like.
In calling on Americans to better themselves and the nation, Obama joined a long line of national leaders who turned moments of tragedy into opportunities for renewal. In 1863, as he stood on the ground where 50,000 soldiers had died in three days fighting, Abraham Lincoln seized the opportunity to not only commemorate the dead but to challenge Americans to secure the freedom for which Union soldiers had given their lives.