After a British colleague thoroughly exhorted me to watch Obama’s Tuscon speech, I did so. The fact that my own family wrote me in praise of it somehow didn’t provide the same motivation. It’s a fine speech; particularly towards the end where he couches his dreams of what American could be in the terms of a child’s thinking — specifically the child slain in the shooting, Christina Taylor-Green. The president’s words were intended to unite, not divide, as is his wont. Much is made of this usually, but to see it in practice is a rare thing, to be appreciated. Which is why I can’t figure out why there are those who look askance at the motives behind his speech, or who decry it as some sort of sign of the weakening of the American psyche — that the leader is expected to give comfort to a wounded nation. The art of the funeral oratory as powerful way to praise the dead while exhorting the nation and the living goes back to at least the fifth century before Christ: “So died these men as becomes Athenians. You, their survivors, must determine to have as unaltering a resolution in the field, though you may pray that it may have a happier outcome.” Finally we have a leader who is able to stand with the ancients on this.
If that’s not good enough for you and if you prefer words to go to the living, then watch Sal Giunta — America’s humblest hero — receive the Medal of Honor from President Obama. Those who feel that the president is not “of the people” should pay especial attention to his off-script asides and the quiet, comforting words he speaks off-mic to Giunta, who is clearly not entirely comfortable at being singled out for his bravery but who wants to do right by graciously accepting the honor.