Obama's emotional plea for unity on day of grief

In his speech in Tucson, the President reminded a nation of his appeal as an inspirational leader

Was it a new Barack Obama who flew home from Tucson in the early hours of yesterday or the old one he had lost sight of? In 33 minutes on Wednesday night he had reminded Americans of what used to be the essence of his appeal: his conviction that politics – and leadership – should be about uniting not dividing.

Moments of great tragedy become moments of opportunity for every president. But the days since the shootings in Tucson last weekend arguably demanded Mr Obama's touch especially. While America was stunned by the rampage that left six dead and 13 wounded, including the Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, it was also plunged into a new spiral of ideological eye-gouging. Did the right cause this? Did Sarah Palin?

Before he became President, Mr Obama proclaimed there was no red America or blue America, referring to the colours of the parties, but only a United States of America. And so Mr Obama, addressing a crowd of 14,000 in a University of Arizona basketball arena, said exactly what you would hope. Rise above this, he said. Use it to make ourselves and our country better.

"If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost," Mr Obama said. "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." He was at his most effective evoking the life of nine-year-old Christina Green whose burial was due yesterday afternoon. This morning will see the funeral of John Roll, the most senior federal judge in Arizona until he too was killed.

The little girl, Mr Obama noted, had shown an early interest in democracy and politics, joining her school student council and asking to go along to Saturday's event to see a Congressperson in the flesh. "I want to live up to her expectations," the President told the crowd and the national TV audience. "I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it."

Several times at the memorial event the mostly youthful audience was more anxious to yell appreciation than share in grieving.

They whistled for their President and roared for the heroes of the shooting tragedy. And no one drew their gratitude or admiration more than the 20-year-old Daniel Hernandez, a political science student seated on the right of Mr Obama.

An unpaid intern in the Tucson constituency office of Ms Giffords, he had rushed forward in the hail of bullets to apply pressure to the head wounds of the Congresswoman and ensured that she was able to breathe. He told the Congresswoman to squeeze his hand to help her cope with her great pain. With his courage, he may just have saved her life.

The country may not heed President Obama's message, of course. Ms Palin had earlier in the day demonstrated just how powerful the pull into point-scoring can be with a video cameo that saw her lashing out at those who had sought to connect her sometimes incendiary rhetoric to the shooting. They were guilty of "blood libel", she said.

The contrast between Ms Palin and Mr Obama was jarring.

"Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations," the President said, "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." Ms Palin will have delighted her core constituents. But the higher ground was surely Mr Obama's.

"I wouldn't underestimate how this is going to affect the perception of the President," noted Charles Krauthammer, the normally hostile columnist on The Washington Post.

Steve Lombardo, who does polling for the Republicans, told Politico: "It was supposed to be simply a chance to make a good speech, but it may be more than that. It may be a time when we look back and say that he remade himself tonight into the President we thought he could be."

The road back for Tucson may be longer. As residents begin to bury those killed, they are also learning more about the suspect, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, and behaviour that spoke so loudly of a troubled soul. New police documents revealed a previous outburst about attaching bombs to babies.

Speech extracts

* "Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us 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."



* "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."



* "I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it... If there are rain puddles in Heaven, she is jumping in them today. And here on this Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and we commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit."

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam