Obama gave a speech today at the memorial service for the victims of last week's Arizona shooting. The debate surrounding the shooting centers on the 'tone' of political discourse, but the tone of this event was pretty damn confusing.
Obama was supposed to heal America tonight, after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others were shot in Arizona. (MSNBC helpfully labeled their pre-speech coverage "Healer-in-Chief," which isn't even a pun.) The healing took place under the big top, a holy rolling revival. From the New York Times:
The scene at McKale Arena at the University of Arizona was a surreal mix of grief and celebration; it seemed to be part church service, part political rally, under the auspices of a college basketball event. Arizona Wildcats championship banners hung on the rafters above while long lines of people queued up at the concession stands for Cokes.
"Omigod where do you think Obama is right now?" one woman said excitedly, about an hour before the service began. (Mr. and Mrs. Obama, at the time, were meeting with family members of the victims).
Even before the event, a dumb mini-controversy erupted up over the Obamaesque T-shirts emblazoned with "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America," that had been whipped up and handed out to attendees.
The speech itself was also a strange mix of tearful solemnity and hootin' and hollerin' by a few thousand college students. It got very sad when Obama talked about 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the straight-A student and burgeoning politician, and Gabe Zimmerman, the Giffords aide shot down while serving his boss. It got a little less sad when Obama started reflecting on the civility of our discourse and the "point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle."
But the most memorable part of this memorial service didn't have anything to do with the victims who died; it was a joyful moment, when Obama dramatically revealed that he and Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, had visited Giffords in the hospital just a few minutes earlier and she opened her eyes for the first time. "Gabby opened her eyes for the first time," he repeated, as the stadium rose to a standing ovation and raucous cheering.
It would have almost made sense if at this point Obama produced a basketball and effortlessly dunked on Jan Brewer under the championship banners. Now that would have been some healing.