The President’s Speech

January 12th, 2011 at 11:49 pm David Frum | 50 Comments |

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What a terrible assignment, especially for a father of young daughters. The president did the job he needed to do, struck the appropriate notes in the appropriate way. He conspicuously forbore to make political points, quite the contrary: he urged against finger-pointing, in this sense agreeing with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. “But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.”

The president’s challenge, as so often, was to make a human connection. In that, he succeeded tonight. He paid tribute to the individuality of the lost, honored the pain of the bereaved, and was crucial in bringing together the collective community acknowledgement of grief that is the only available comfort to those who mourn.

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50 Comments so far ↓

  • anniemargret

    Gracious comment, David Frum. Thank you.

  • politicalfan

    I second. Gracious comment.

  • kissthestick

    so true david frum, especially the 1st line, i dont know why many conservatives and other tv / radio pundits on cnn/nbc etc thought obama shouldnt make this political. I mean really? did they honestly think after these deaths, obama was gonna take the podium and start dissing the hell outta the tea party for no reason? sheeesh

  • nwahs

    I’m all for toning down political rhetoric if we forgo the left wing’s orchestrated fraud. I was for that before this tragedy. But I won’t ignore a person indignantly calling for clean water while pumping sewerage into the lake. I wont dignify the left’s calling for civil rhetoric while engaging in vitriolic rhetoric. If the left drops its orchestrated fraud, there is hope this dialog can move forward. If not the chasm just deepens.

  • CAPryde

    nwahs = fail.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    nwahs: “I’m all for toning down political rhetoric if we forgo the left wing’s orchestrated fraud. . . But I won’t ignore a person indignantly calling for clean water while pumping sewerage into the lake.”

    Why would you favor toning down political rhetoric? What benefits do you think that would produce?

  • Jonathon

    I agree completely David. Everyone–regardless of their political beliefs–should have been moved and touched by Pres. Obama’s speech tonight. It completely transcended partisan politics. Obama called on all Americans to live up to the ideals of a democratic society that the nine year old girl who died believed so strongly in, even at her young age. That little girl was so excited about politics and government, and the idea that our democratic political system can serve as a vehicle for Americans to work together to solve the problems that this country faces. Pres. Obama admirably implored us to strive to make that ideal democratic society that the nine year old girl envisioned a reality, which, incidentally, is an ideal that many of us adults also used to believe in before we lost the kind of childlike idealism that the little girl harbored, and instead became consumed with cynicism about politics.

  • Dex

    nwahs, the “orchestrated fraud” which Giffords herself launched last March?

  • nwahs

    “Why would you favor toning down political rhetoric? What benefits do you think that would produce?”


  • politicalfan

    ” left wing’s orchestrated fraud”

    This was not a partisan issue (regarding the individuals in AZ) nwahs.

  • nwahs

    “This was not a partisan issue (regarding the individuals in AZ) nwahs.”
    You’re right, it wasn’t and it isn’t. The left wing orchestrated fraud that some right wing pundit caused it is a partisan issue.

  • SpartacusIsNotDead

    nwahs: “Ideas”

    So discussing ideas is a good thing, but you’re happy to do without it if people on the Left use heated rhetoric?

    That’s incredibly small-minded and it’s reflective of the Right’s current disdain for governance.

  • Mark Rosenthal

    good post David, I am in agreement with you.

    And Sarah Palin effectively ended her presidential bid on the same day with a truly terrible video. She tried to make the day all about herself and failed. And every jew in the room knows how much the term “blood libel” hurts and furthermore, only harded hard-core right wing jews are willing to overlook this and still support her. The other 99.99% of us do not. And you know that Palin is really on the losing side when Buchanan, a known jew-hater, supports her comments. Yup, she just hammered the nails into her own political coffin on this day. Kind of a shame. Had she locked up the GOP nomination, Obama would sure have beat so, so 64-35-1 or something like that.

  • westony

    Palin’s support of Dr. Laura and the “N” word was just as offensive to African Americans. What an offensive, insensitive person. And NEVER accepts responsiblity or apologizes for anything. In the Dr. Laura incident it was about Freedom of Speech. In this incident it’s about Blood Libel against her. Next week it will be something else. Every week there is another controversy that Palin either “starts” or involves herself in. And her supporters continue to fill her head with dreams of the Presidency and illusions about her strong Christian values. When was the last time anyone saw Palin near a church?

  • deberb

    Lighten up, folks. The President did a good job last night. At least he is trying now to connect to the American people. Unfortunately what he says and what he does are two different things. However, this thread is about last night’s speech and I give him a “thumb’s up.”

  • midcon

    The President did a great job last night as head of state, where he represents the entire nation. Asking the nation to live up to Christina Green’s expectations was a pretty brilliant move.

    I am not an Obama supporter and did not vote for him, but he was eloquent and appropriate last night as an American president should be.

    Good on him.

  • midcon

    And Shawn, there is no reason to tone down the political rhetoric but there is a way to employ political rhetoric in a civil manner that is respectful of other ideas. This is America, we disagree on many things but we can be classy and civil about it.

  • Slide

    Great job. Great speech. Quite a contrast from what we heard from Palin earlier in the day.

  • westony

    deberb….you negated your comment. I see you graced the President with a “thumbs up” while simultaneously claiming his actions and words aren’t consistent. So…I guess that was a marginal “thumbs up”. However, I notice you had no problem defending “crosshairs” Palin. One thing about her. She is consistently hateful.

  • me

    We should never bow down to the pressure of true debate and that is what this thing feels like. Here is a home run with the truest balance I’ve read anywhere:

  • sah7777

    Very nice post, I think the speech last night was wonderful and hit exactly the right tone.

    Nwahs, read this post and contemplate it.

    “It is indeed the case that political debate in this country is uncivil and inappropriate, dehumanizing and mean-spirited. But we cannot control what others say and do, we can only control what we ourselves say and do. Uncivil debate and a pervasively toxic “rhetorical climate” requires that more than one “side” play the game. It requires that no “side” make a concerted effort to figure out what the other “sides” are really trying to say in good faith, and focus instead solely on what they are saying in bad faith.

    If we in fact are interested in improving the quality of tone and debate in this country, then we have to first commit to improving the quality of our own individual tone and debate rather than demanding that everyone else first do the same, and definitely rather than demanding that everyone else accept blame for everything they’ve done in the past.”

  • Houndentenor

    “If the left drops its orchestrated fraud, there is hope this dialog can move forward. If not the chasm just deepens.”

    Ah, so the right doesn’t have to do anything and the responsibility for changing the tone falls entirely on the liberals. Typical. I’m sick of always having to compromise and then getting beaten up in the process.

    You’re wrong. The chasm deepens unless EVERYONE tones down the vitriol. And based on my own experience I see no evidence that liberals toning down will have any impact on the right.

  • deberb

    westony, I made that comment about President Obama before he made his speech last night. What he says and what he does are two different things as we have all witnessed over the past two years. However, even though I do not support Obama I have to compliment him when he does something right. That’s who I am.

    As for Palin, I would not vote for her in 2012 in a presidential run but I do defend her because she has received so many spitballs from the left wing media. After all, she is a woman, wife, mother, daughter who was elected to Mayor and elected to Governor of her state. She appeals to millions of Americans because they can relate to her platform of beliefs. As a woman, I will defend another woman who is out there working and raising children. That’s who I am.

    Yes, “thumb’s up” for Obama last night.

  • nwahs

    “And Shawn, there is no reason to tone down the political rhetoric but there is a way to employ political rhetoric in a civil manner that is respectful of other ideas. This is America, we disagree on many things but we can be classy and civil about it.”

    Well in toning down rhetoric, I mean disavowing stigma based politics.

  • nwahs

    “If we in fact are interested in improving the quality of tone and debate in this country, then we have to first commit to improving the quality of our own individual tone and debate rather than demanding that everyone else first do the same, and definitely rather than demanding that everyone else accept blame for everything they’ve done in the past.””

    I think the right can move forward in a civil manner and still defend itself from the left’s orchestrated fraud. I think the left can move forward in a civil manner by dropping the orchestrated fraud. But what I think is actually going to happen is both sides continue to try to bully the other. While democracy is noble, politics is and always has been vile. Having political writers posture themselves as beacons of civility is a little nauseating and absolutely dishonest.

  • rubbernecker

    Frum’s comment is very good. Obama gave a moving, magnanimous speech worthy of an occasion that called for consolation and national reconciliation.

    I guess I should resolve to be more expansive toward the righties, but Lord it is so hard.

  • midcon

    Civility can simply mean, not using extreme symbology, such as comparing someone to an infamous and abhorent individual or declaring someone a war criminal. That would be a measure of civility that doesn’t require anyone to compromise their principles. No one is asking you to give up hating those you don’t agree with, but civility can mean saying “I hate you” in a civilized manner with a measure of class. Or better yet, saying that hate the idea but not the person. Civility means acting like we are all Americans (what we have in common) but disagree on the policies and the governance. I haven’t heard any political writers posture themselves as “beacons” of anything. However, some of them do write and act with some class. That does not mean they don’t have a sharp knife and use it when they feel the need. But let’s face it, there are ways of saying things that can be classy and civil.

  • medinnus

    I thought he struck just the right note last night.

  • aed

    I thought the President challenged us to more than just cosmetic surgery on our terms of speech last night. I thought he called for a deeper reframing of public service to reflect a shared commitment to the best interests of the American people and the country as a whole; toward a more “statesman-like” attitude, for wont of a better term, among our public servants; and a recognition among ourselves of our connectedness, of our identities of members of a community rather than our membership in smaller, more partisan camps. I’m old enough to remember a time when, at least for a while, this sensibility prevailed and I think that at a time when this country is at a crossroads, when we are poised to either fall backward oe move forward toward really innovative, dynamic approaches to the problems of the 21st century, “toward a more perfect union,” this sensibility is something we must recapture. I loved his line about our challenge being to expand the circle of our concern ever wider, or words to that effect. That really is the challenge, isn’t it?

  • rubbernecker

    Well said, aed.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    The speech as was predicted on the thread about allahpundit (who was a wrong as anyone could possibly have been as to the content of the speech), with the bulk of it related to the victims and the heroes. Beyond the touching and deeply sad aspects relating to the victims, especially young Miss Green, I had to give credit to Obama for mentioning the biography of Judge Roll and how he had been recommended by John McCain for the seat. I know it is not likely to happen but I hope his replacement comes out of a list of names provided by Kyl and McCain and he/she is quickly confirmed.

    A lot of people were talking about the reactions of the crowd, it did not surprise me because it kind of reminded me of an Irish wake, loud, raucous, embracing life in honor and in celebration of the deceased.

  • KBKY

    A truly beautiful speech, both moving and optimistic about our future. I was very proud to call Obama my President last night, he was truly a statesman and a leader. Also, a small thing, but I appreciated the First Lady’s reactions as well. She seemed to provide a lot of support to Ms. Giffords husband during the speech and just gave an impression of compassion.

  • abk1985

    Obama is the best “national leader” for public consumption since Reagan. It’s a very important role for the President to play.

    On the other hand, we expect the President to lead on a host of other issues, and, except for creating a “National Health” plan which I think is unworkable and will simply add to the deficit, I cannot think of anything else he has accomplished.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    I agree that things did get unnecessarily ugly on both sides.

    Democrats pointed out the inappropriateness of some few Republicans words and images, Republicans screamed Democrats were playing politics, Democrats screamed back that the Republicans were being obtuse to not recognize how wrong those words and images were and the hatefest was on.

    It would have been nice if one side had risen above it, Democrats by leaving that conversation for a later day or Republicans by graciously accepting that it was an assassination of a Democratic Congresswoman and that some Democrats were going to vent their anger and acknowledging that violent language and imagery has no place in political campaigns.

    So elements of both sides failed (I include myself), mostly for not focusing only on the victims. We can go yell at each other next week.

  • Fairy Hardcastle

    It was better delivered than usual because he eschewed his crutch, the teleprompter. That was a good decsion.

    It was unfortunately polluted by many rock star like applauds. It was a poor decision not to tell the crowd to exercise discretion.

    It is incredibly anamolous that no such unity speech was delivered at Fort Hood by the Commander in Chief.

    He has the good will of the people at times like these, but that is because Americans respect the Office more than identify with the pathos of the man.

  • VLF1964

    Well said, Mr. Frum.

    It brought tears to my eyes while listening to the President speak of intimate details of each individual. They seem to have been lost over the last few days, competing – and often losing – to those who would rather fill the airwaves blaming each other.

    abk1985 – Maybe the below link will help. While the name chosen for this site is rather “colorful”, it is a list of accomplishments:

  • ZombieTory

    I watched the speech last night. I agree with a lot of pundits that the hoots and whistles from the crowd seemed inappropriate. However, I had no issues with the tone of Obama’s speech. I think it was right and proper to strike an optimistic note, while paying respect to the lost, rather than dwelling on fear and sorrow.

    People respond well to hope; he won an election banking on that. Conservatives should learn something here…

  • pnwguy


    I have seen comments on other blogs that might explain some of the crowd atmosphere. Supposedly this was organized at the U of Arizona campus as a Unity Rally, not a memorial, complete with printed T-shirts. The point of course was to remember the dead but also to uplift the Tuscon community in a time when most of them are still reeling from the shock and sense of violation. It was certainly understandable that the crowd would erupt in cheers at various points, especially the news about Gifford’s startling progress. I think the media mostly just referred to it as a memorial, as if a group of the families had organized it. If this is true, the fault lies with the media’s characterization of the event, and why people were expecting a somber tone.

  • abk1985


    I went to this website in good faith but the intrusive software stopped working after the first half dozen clicks. So these were the “accomplishments” that were listed:

    1. Stimulus — Obama didn’t create this, and it hasn’t worked well enough. We still have 10% unemployed.

    2. More private sector jobs — We still have 10% unemployed.

    3. First Latina on the Supreme Court — This is an accomplishment? Bush would have had the first Latino if Gonzales had gone through …… Please. If it is a juridical “accomplishment” to pick people who match certain racial or ethnic profiles to service on SOTUS you can chalk that up to political pandering, nothing else.

    4. More tobacco controls. — This is good? This is from the same people who criminalize marijuana, criminalized ephedra, want to criminalize sudafed, and will probably want to criminalize french fries because of their known health risks and addictive qualities. This is not good.

    Has it ever occurred to you that it is not in fact the business of government to restrict our freedoms? In the past 100 years, we have banned more and more substances — including alcohol — simply because some small segment of the population will abuse these substances. That small segment then goes out and finds some NEW substance to abuse. Then yet another substance is taken off the market. Do you realize that the government is allowing a small sub-culture of chronic junkies who have amazing ingenuity in finding ways to get high to restrict to a greater and greater extent what normal responsible Americans can get access to? How is that progress?


    Obama has done nothing about ending either of our wars
    Obama has done nothing about closing Gitmo
    Obama has done nothing in the Middle East
    Obama has done nothing about illegal immigration
    Obama has done nothing about climate change

    and so on and so forth. He’s a better leader than Bush and he got rid of torture. That’s about it, so far.

  • valkayec

    Excuse me, but what does “orchestrated fraud” mean? Can you define it? And how is the left’s fraud, is such is the case, any more orchestrated than the right’s? Frankly, I don’t see see much difference in orchestration between the extremes of either party, although from what I read in articles and comments across the media spectrum, the right’s comments tend to use more violent imagery.

    Anyway, I’d appreciate a definition of what you mean by that phrase.

  • KBKY

    It is often difficult to determine what accomplishments are the President’s and what are Congress’. For that reason, I’ll ignore some of the recent popular legislation such as the Food Safety Bill and the START Treaty. I was dubious at first, but I’ve actually been impressed with his foreign policy style. He’s managed to get us on a track to good relations with Russia (did anyone think a year ago that Russia would be helping us keep nuclear weapons from Iran?) and his playing India and China off of each other was clever. He has also done quite a bit for education, from the Race to the Top grants that incentivized a rehaul of our public school teacher evaluation system, to improved loan access for students to attend college. I also really like the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, headed by the estimable Elizabeth Warren, which should be a new defense against another recession. These are just a few off of the top of my head, but I’m sure a google search would yield more.

    In terms of your specific asks, I’ll admit that Guantanamo Bay doesn’t bother me that much and for the wars I’d rather he listen to Secretary Gates than adhere to a political promise. Better men than he have tried to deal with the Middle East and failed, the area is a complete quagmire, so I guess I don’t hold it against him. I think expectations (especially his own) were unrealistic in that area. I’ll agree with you on illegal immigration and climate change, but the man has only been in office 2 years. I’m willing to give him his full term. One of my favorite sites is and they have a great Obameter that tracks Obama’s successes, failures, and the status of his different campaign promises: Very objective and very useful for the politically-minded.

  • abk1985

    KBKY: I have no doubt that POTUS has personally helped several little old ladies across the street in the past two years. However, that’s irrelevant. The various “accomplishments” that everyone keeps pointing to are all minor and could have been done by anyone, including Bush. The only significant needful thing that he has done so far is the health care bill, which in fact is likely to be hamstrung in the second half of his term, and which in fact will not pay for itself. In other words, the deficit, national debt, and health care crises linger.

    I don’t mean this necessarily as a criticism, either. Lots of presidents basically sit around do little. I just mean that, while he’s a dynamite leader in the Reagan “father of the nation” type mold, he really hasn’t accomplished much, and I don’t expect him to, either. Not anymore.

  • KBKY

    First off, apologies that I modified my post, I wanted to add in the information about politifact. I understand your point (and should also say straight out that I thought it was fair and not overly critical in any way). I wouldn’t personally view the creation of an entirely new agency, against major financial protests; and the attempt to reincentivize public school evaluation, against major teacher union protests; as minor. Those are major Democratic donors that he ignored and that takes some political will.

    I also think our new relations with Russia are pretty impressive. Prior to his presidency, everyone just assumed that Medvedev was a puppet and that Putin wouldn’t let any of our priorities pass. Now, we actually have Russia (a huge influence in the Middle East, especially with Iran), helping us to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran. Honestly, it’s a lot more than I thought he’d be able to do, especially after news of their first meeting. I don’t want to give more credit than is due, but I’m not sure any President could have accomplished that. Russians are prickly. Just two years ago we had them invading one of our semi-allies, now they are working with us against one of their previous allies (although I don’t want to overstate their assistance either). It’s a pretty big shift.

    I understand your point, there is so much to get done and we haven’t moved on a lot of issues. But, I do think he’s had a fairly successful (though not all-encompassing) first two years.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    kbky, great posting.

    U.S. troops in Iraq have been reduced to below 50, 000 soldiers down from well over 100,000. That is more than 80,000 troops not in harms way there. In addition most of the troops are scheduled to leave apart from a small training contingent and the soldiers who guard our embassy and consulates.
    U.S. military forces are to pull out completely from Iraq by the end of 2011 according to the security pact signed late in 2008 between Baghdad and Washington.

    Sounds like our involvement in the war is ending in Iraq to me.

  • abk1985

    Sounds like our involvement in the war is ending in Iraq to me.

    Actually, it looks to me that as soon as we leave Sadr will set up another Shiite Islamic republic, although that will be less Obama’s fault than his predecessor’s.

    As for troop withdrawal, it also looks like everyone leaving Iraq is just going across to Afghanistan.

  • lessadoabouteverything

    “Actually, it looks to me that as soon as we leave Sadr will set up another Shiite Islamic republic”

    Sorry, but you are looking wrong. Sadr is a punk, he will never be leader of Iraq, or even a defacto leader. He has popularity over a small subset of the population based only on who his father was, I find it highly doubtful he will ever be appointed an Ayatollah, much less a Grand one (like his father) And it will not be a Shiite Islamic Republic, there are far too many Sunnis, including Kurdish Sunnis, for that to ever happen. Iraq will be an oligarchy with the Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shiite Arabs basically controlling their own areas. These people are not fools.

    As to going to Afghanistan, I support it. 9/11, Al Qaeda, Taliban, etc. For me it is not winning, it is preventing them from ever acquiring power again. You are free to disagree of course, but I won’t buy your definition of success (defeating the Taliban for good) in Afghanistan since short of nuking the populace we can never get that success, you would rather give up and leave unless your much higher definition of success is met. But that is not my definition of success. I think it is a generational war. We only have to outlast them if we have the will.

    In a number of years the oil money will begin to dry up, the Afghan people will eventually tire of war, war, war and the Taliban have nothing to offer but war and sand. We will not defeat them in the end, the Afghan people will turn away from it.

    And due to climate change, if they do not turn away from it the country will wither away to dust and desert. Read about climate projections there to see what I am referring to. It is not pretty. It will take considerable technical know how to survive (refiltration of water, etc.) which the Taliban simply lacks. What good are calls to piety when you are dying of thirst?

  • abk1985

    Lessado: So what you are saying is that we should stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. Then we still have our people tied down in two wars, because I still haven’t even seen the end game in Iraq yet. I don’t buy it.

  • abk1985

    Iraq will be an oligarchy with the Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shiite Arabs basically controlling their own areas.

    Have they figured out how to share oil revenue and/or the disposition of Mosul reserves?

  • ejreed

    If anyone missed it….
    Obama Leads Arizona Memorial Service
    President Obama addressed thousands in the crowded arena who came to hear him speak about the tragedy in Tucson. He announced that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is showing signs of recovery.

  • pnumi2

    Fairy Hardcastle // Jan 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

    “It was better delivered than usual because he eschewed his crutch, the teleprompter. That was a good decsion”

    Are we supposed to draw the conclusion from your observation that George W Bush eschewed the teleprompter all or most of the time?

    The teleprompter is a great way to deliver a speech. Especially one you didn’t write and only rehearsed three or four times.

    If we ever get a president who doesn’t use a teleprompter, let me know and I’ll eat my Sox baseball cap.

    And if a teleprompter is a crutch, we are going to have handicapped Presidents till Kingdom Come.