Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Great Speech from President Obama in Tucson - Whoever Wrote It Is a Conservative!

Barack Obama gave a moving, eloquent, and, most importantly, true speech tonight in Tucson, Arizona. Now, don't have a heart attack just because I'm praising the politician I disagree with more often than any other. He could be wrong on every other issue in the world, but that would not make him wrong on this one.

This speech is a powerful rebuke to the left-wing media, activists and politicians who have kicked the hate machine into high gear over the past few days in order to turn a tragic event perpetrated by a madman into an excuse to demonize Sarah Palin and all conservatives and score cheap political points. (Yes, I'm referring to Paul Krugmann and the New York Times. See the previous post.) No, he didn't name them; he didn't have to. It was painfully clear:

You see, 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. Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

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 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 a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

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. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that's what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected. We're shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. 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. We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

Read it all here.

This was a thoroughly conservative speech. How so?

1. He praised the heroics of the people who risked their lives to take down the gunman, tried to shield their loved ones from the bullets with their bodies and kept Congresswoman Giffords from bleeding to death even as the shots continued. He praised virtue. This is important because it demonstrates an awareness of the reality of good and evil and personal moral responsibility.

2. He said that we cannot know what caused this man to do what he did; sometimes Providence is inscrutable. We don't know why some things happen. Sometimes the presence of evil in the world is the best explanation we have. This was an implicit rejection of the Enlightenment faith in reason as able to solve all problems and prevent all tragedies. It is a tragic, rather than a Utopian, view of life, which is a deeply conservative position.

3. He told people to stop exploiting this event as an excuse to score cheap political points against their opponents and he refrained from descending to that level himself.

This speech will be welcomed by thinking conservatives, although many who are embittered by the partisanship of the last few days will have difficulty being gracious. But if this speech had been given by a conservative it would be hailed as a masterpiece.

On the other hand, this speech poses a real dilemma for the Left. If they criticize it they basically throw Obama in the same bag as Sarah Palin and make themselves look even more extreme than they do now. But if they praise it, they thereby damn themselves. What a dilemma! Well done, Mr. President!

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