The President’s speech has, no doubt, been analyzed fully from nearly every point of view. The problem for your humble servant is the existence of too many opinions. The challenge of arriving at a point of view as free of transitory influence as possible can be daunting.
That said; the President was brilliant in his rhetoric. That was how it felt in the moment; a reading of the transcript did not diminish the impact. The Pep Rally feel was annoying, frequently inappropriate, but not a dominating factor.
The President managed to channel the optimism of Ronald Reagan combined with the connection of a Bill Clinton. The President, finally, appeared Presidential, even opponents should recognize the value in that as well as the challenge.
The President used more “we” and “they” than “I”, breaking a long standing trend contributing to a degree of “tune out”. The “as I’ve said before” attitude was, thankfully, abandoned in that moment. The President has possibly learned how to externalize, to associate elegant phrasing with simple expansions. Hearts and minds!
The President has faced a number of choices pitting an ideological point of view against the potential for engaged solutions. Many choices, in effect, delegated to Congress but by way of support or silence, those decisions are also affixed to the President. So far ideology has won out at all levels of the federal bureaucracy , at a price. Presidential and Congressional approval ratings dropped in each case and on nearly every issue. As a result the President has tested the boundaries of disapproval and no doubt realizes that 41% – 43% approval is not a success strategy for re-election. The right track wrong track numbers are 2 -1 against and have been for, seemingly, a very long time.
The President faces choice again as a result of electoral reality. The President has often pointed out electoral reality as things stood in his favor. The Memorial Service may have revealed his recovery plan in a new reality.
The President appealed to the innocence and idealism of youth, he appealed to our desire to be worthy of our children. He devalued accusatory rhetoric absent evidence or justification. What politics may have been present were reasonable in context and enjoyed a degree of decorum.
The President called for engaged debate absent the wounding that is so often the case. He called for toning down the blame game. He recognized evil in the world and warned against simple explanations. He used the occasion to ask that we not use the tragedy to turn on one another, to expand our moral imagination and sharpen our empathy. He insisted that we align our values with our actions; superior sentiments all, clearly the rhetoric of effective leadership. President Obama in Tucson could justifiably lay claim to being everyone’s President in that moment, absent the lunatic fringe.
The President is correct; we must “make sure we align our values with our actions”. The President’s challenge is to define which side of the values argument he represents. Are they the rejected values of the last election or the values that exist in the vast middle of America? The values represented by the President’s history of leftist affiliations and influences or those that grow out of the realities of American life and history?
Was it a speech or the President’s strategy for re-election? Will the President adapt or simply use this manner of rhetoric as cover. For the Tucson speech to be truly important the rhetoric must be matched with observable action. While the President subtly called out some of his own, will he do so expressly when the time comes? This is the President that decided early in his administration that denigrating Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, or the industry of the month. There has been a constant march of straw men to be cut down in service to the President’s agenda, this approach passed for good political strategy, at least up till now. This is the President that refused to engage the opposition for 18 months. This is a President with no reluctance to take advantage of one party rule. Is that our President or was it the man at the Podium in Tucson?
The President seemed to establish a set of standards and expectations that will have to, by necessity and definition, transcend ideology and embrace engagement. The President’s history of leftist influences will make this an exceptionally difficult “talk” for him to “walk”. Should he do it, he will have the most significantly negative impact on the hard left since Reagan. However, should this strategy result in re-election, will the President fall back on his original influences? Will the first two years of his administration serve as a mirror image of the final four? Fool me once; fool me twice?
Perhaps reality has bitten the administration, perhaps there is a change in perception, perhaps there is a recognition that good ideas do in fact exist in opposition. Whatever the case the President has set a high bar for political engagement; he must be the first to jump over it! That is the demand of leadership beyond rhetoric.