And so, after the shootings in Tucson, the reaction, the spin, the name-calling, and the rest, Barack Obama arrived yesterday for the memorial service for the victims, and to lead those praying for the recovery of the wounded. Although events like this are meant to transcend politics, in reality they cannot: Obama is still a politician.
So how did his speech play? In a packed arena on the University of Arizona campus, with thousands more listening outside, Obama paid tribute to those who died, those who selflessly helped the wounded and prevented the shooter from reloading his weapon, and revealed that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.
His delivery was measured, the tone he struck matched the mood of the occasion, and, yes, he was presidential. He was applauded long and loud even before his speech, and then yet longer and louder afterwards. Snippets such as “What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other” will be remembered for months afterwards. Because they will be wheeled out as the 2012 Elections approach.
For this is the political part of such events: with this speech, Barack Obama has begun his march towards re-election. As he was gaining the plaudits for a moving and conciliatory speech, his rivals floundered: former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, seen as a strong challenger from the GOP, was being subjected to an extended grilling by Daily Show host Jon Stewart [video, sadly, not available in the UK right now]. He was not totally convincing.
And Sarah Palin, whose language and literature has drawn criticism – not only from the left – was embroiled in a mess of her own making when, in a video posted on her Facebook page, she accused her critics of making a “blood libel”. The phrase has an unfortunate past, and is considered by some to have anti-Semitic overtones. Whether or not that is true, those two words overshadowed the rest of her message.
In reality, any idea of “Palin 2012” is now finished. Barack Obama, so recently written off even by some Democrat supporters, is on his way to the party’s nomination. He will then start the next race for the White House as favourite. When the moment came, and he needed to be presidential, he delivered.