The contrasts, both in style and in tone, were undeniable. Perhaps more telling though are the apparent motivations behind the two public statements made by Barack Obama and Sarah Palin yesterday, in response to the assassination attempt on the life of Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Obama, speaking at the Arizona memorial service for the other victims of Saturday’s shooting, did what presidents do. Looking and sounding more presidential then he has at any other point during his tenure at the White House, Obama served as the comforter-in-chief both for the families and friends in attendance, and for the rest of us watching the nationally televised speech, still trying to make sense of it all.
He eulogized the fallen, offered the support of the nation to the wounded and to the families of those who were lost, and praised those who helped prevent any further damage as heroes. Obama also wisely took the high road in choosing not to point fingers, place blame, or otherwise politicize the tragic events in Arizona at a time more appropriately given over to reflection and grieving for those who were lost.
If anything, Obama seized the moment to urge a return to civility in the political debate, and for a more rational, less inflammatory tone of unity in the national discourse seeking to find common solutions to the complex problems facing America in tough economic times.
Whether Obama’s words continue to resonate by this time tomorrow or even next week remains an open question of course. But Obama’s speech on Wednesday transcended partisan politics. This was a president doing what all presidents during a national tragedy do, much as Bill Clinton did after the Oklahoma City bombing, and yes, George W. Bush did after 9/11.
That said, in a lot of ways Obama also looked more like the rock star of the 2008 campaign than he has at any point since then. The memorial event at times seemed more like a campaign rally—there were several times when Obama’s remarks were interrupted by spontaneous eruptions of cheer—than a somber memorial service. Obama’s speech also served as a reminder of just how electric he can be as a speaker. You almost expected the crowd to start chanting “Yes, We Can” at times.
For that reason, it also reminded me again of just why I’ve become so disappointed with his presidency at times. Aside from the way he has all too often met the punches of his Republican detractors by opening up a bi-partisan can of compromise on them, Obama has also seemed detached from the populist movement that helped elect him. Obama is the sort of speaker who, at his best, can galvanize people from all walks of life into action. Which is exactly why I’d like to see him do a lot more speaking.
Sarah Palin’s remarks on the other hand, have left me somewhat dumbstruck.
Made on a professionally produced seven minute video, and released — incredibly—on the same day as the memorial, Palin’s remarks start on mostly a proper note. She offers a mix of outrage over the tragedy and support for the families of the victims. To her credit, Palin does do that much—well, for about one of the seven-plus minutes of her presentation, anyway. From there, she also rightly defends the principles of freedom of speech, and the all-American contact sport of a vigorous, passionate political debate.
Incredibly, she then turns her remarks completely upside down and inside out by lashing out at those who would exercise the rights of others to do exactly the same—that is, challenge or otherwise disagree—by daring to criticize, guess who? If you guessed Sarah Palin, you win the Dancing With The Stars DVD.
The point where this crosses the line from being merely laughable, to somewhat disturbing, is when she invokes the words “blood libel”—a none too thinly veiled anti-Semitic reference to historically made comments about Jews killing Christian children for blood sacrifice.
Seriously, this woman wants to be president?
Aside from this, the “What About Me?” tone of her remarks come across as a pathetic attempt to turn what should have been a day of mourning into a pity party for the “real victim”—which would of course be Sarah Palin. This is simply astonishing, particularly coming from such a national political figure.
You can debate whether accusations from the left pointing blame for the Arizona shootings towards the inflammatory rhetoric of folks like Palin, Sharon Angle, and Glenn Beck is fair or not. In truth, a lot of that probably isn’t either. But in turning the tragedy back towards herself, rather than the real, proper victims, Palin comes off as being just pathetically shameless.
I think a lot of us already knew in our hearts that Sarah Palin was a deeply narcissistic personality who is really more interested in the sort of celebrity that comes with shooting deer—and not very well, I might add—on her reality show on cable TV, than in the deeper sort of thought and commitment required of any real public servant.
But her performance on Wednesday, even as Gabrielle Giffords fought for her life in an Arizona hospital was embarrassing at best, and self-serving at worst.
In a word, incredible.