President Obama Calls for Talk That Heals, Not Wounds

BY David Chalian  January 12, 2011 at 9:16 PM EST


President Obama traveled to Tucson Wednesday to help memorialize those who died in Saturday’s shooting rampage, and to honor those who are still struggling with their wounds. He clearly chose to stay above the fray of the partisan commentary that has been flinging across television and computer screens over the last several days, but he didn’t shy away in joining the call for a more civil discourse.

“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,” Mr. Obama was expected to say, according to his prepared remarks. “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.”

The president’s remarks stood in marked contrast to Sarah Palin’s video posted to the Internet earlier Wednesday in which the former vice presidential candidate pushed back against critics who had pointed to her political rhetoric and tactics as part of a corrosion of the country’s civil discourse that could lead to violence such as what occurred last Saturday. These critics have made these claims in the absence of any demonstrated proof whatsoever that connects the suspected gunman’s actions to Palin’s words or tactics.

“Within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible,” Palin said in her Internet video.

Gov. Palin’s decision to release her video in which she engages in the political to and fro, and pounces on her critics, on the same day President Obama was to speak at a public memorial inevitably invites comparison.

The president alluded to the political conversation that has been swirling around the Tucson tragedy this week during his remarks, but refused to cite specifics, chide pundits or politicians, or assign motives. He called on Americans to resist any attempt to “turn on one another.”

“What we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. That we cannot do. That we cannot do. 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,” President Obama 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,” he added.

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