President Obama on Wednesday urged the nation not to ‘turn on one another’ in the wake of Saturday’s shooting in Tucson of 19 people, including a congresswoman, and to be ‘worthy’ of the six who died in the attack.
“When a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless,” Obama said, speaking to a crowd of 14,000 inside McKale Memorial Center on the campus of the University of Arizona.
“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds,” he said.
Obama, who visited Giffords and the other survivors of the attack in the hospital before the memorial, spent much of his speech talking about those who were killed, as well as those who rushed to their aid and to disable the accused shooter, Jared Loughner.
“The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents,” Obama said. “And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy – it did not – but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”
That was as close as Obama ventured in the direction of addressing the fiery debate over whether political rhetoric was to blame in any way for Loughner’s actions. That debate was set off by premature speculation from the left about Sarah Palin and the Tea Party being an inspiration for Loughner, which prompted angry recriminations from the right that only intensified as it became clear Loughner was not politically motivated.
“The truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack,” Obama said. “None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”
The president did not point a finger at a rush to judgment in the wake of the attack, but did call for “a good does of humility” by those discussing the shootings.
“What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another,” he said. “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.”
The president aimed many of his exhortations at the private and personal behavior of all Americans.
“We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order,” he said.
He ended by talking about nine-year old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed by the gunman.
“If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today,” Obama said of Green, who was born on Sept. 11, 2001, the same day that terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing more than 3,000 people in New York and Washington.
“And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.”