Tucson memorial speech verdict: 'Thank you Mr President'

Commentators from the left, right and centre praise Barack Obama's public address after Arizona shooting

People react to President Barack Obama's speech at the Tucson shooting memorial service
People react to President Barack Obama's speech at the Tucson shooting memorial service. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/EPA

Barack Obama was praised by the right and left today for a Tucson memorial service speech in which he rose above the political blame-game and called for America to engage in a civil discourse.

Even the rightwing Fox News commentator Glenn Beck thanked him for "becoming the president" of the US.

The speech was compared to those of Ronald Reagan after the Challenger explosion in 1986, and Bill Clinton after the 1995 Oklahoma bombing, and described as a healing moment for the nation. The president devoted much of the speech to describing the lives of the victims. He resisted the temptation to attack the right for the nasty rhetoric and instead focused on the future.

"The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbours, co-workers and parents," he said. After spending much of 2010 on the defensive Obama has had a good two months after securing three pieces of legislation and again rose to the occasion. His tone contrasted with that of Sarah Palin, who stoked controversy by referring to a "blood libel" against her.

Beck said the president should have made the speech earlier, but it was better late than never. "This is probably the best speech he has ever given, and, with all sincerity, thank you Mr President for becoming the president of the United States of America last night."

Liberal commentator Joe Klein, in a blogpost for Time, said Obama had empathised with the victims' families. "And he spoke, more broadly, as the head of our national family, comforting, uplifting, scolding a little, nudging us toward our better angels." James Fallows wrote in the Atlantic: "A performance to remember. This will be, along with his 2004 convention speech and his March 2008 'meaning of race' speech in Philadelphia, one of the speeches he is lastingly known for – and to add to the list of daunting political/oratorical challenges Obama has not merely met but mastered."

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  • dornadair

    13 January 2011 8:41PM

    I am usually quite cynical of politicians of all sides. But this speech moved me to tears. It was one of the best speeches that I have ever heard, heartfelf and sincere.

  • tightrope

    13 January 2011 8:43PM

    Well that is jolly good then.

    Curious though how everything in the US these days is appended with a comment by unelected crazies such as Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

    Why is that?

  • fruitcoverednails

    13 January 2011 8:47PM

    Glenn Beck praises Obama ... well he no choice really. Even this lowlife prick can recognise when a more concillatory tone is needed.

    I remain extremely sceptical of how genuine it is.

  • ellaella

    13 January 2011 8:49PM

    A pundit whose name escapes me made an excellent point yesterday, the day we heard from both Palin and Obama. it was something along the lines of "we know why he's president and why she'll never be."

    I can't' help but wonder if some of the positive reaction from the right is based on a belief that he told Democrats to tone it down. It was a non-partisan speech and he told all of us to tone it down, and did it in language that sometimes soared.

  • Communicationalist

    13 January 2011 8:54PM

    It's a bit early to start concluding that America is alright. Still, no doubt Obama did pour balm on its troubled soul.

    Maybe it's time for the US to retreat a little from the world stage and regroup.

    Who knows, maybe some of the other troubled parts of the world will rise to their own challenges in a similar fashion, if they no longer have Uncle Same to blame all their woes on...

  • Badhaggis

    13 January 2011 8:55PM

    Even the rightwing Fox News commentator Glenn Beck thanked him for "becoming the president of the United States of America".

    Nice to see Glenn trying to furiously back-peddle from his "Obama is a racist against whites" remark, or his imitation of Obama's children after telling people that they shouldn't attack the families of politicians.

    Although to be fair even he is better than Palin who refuses to even consider that her hate speeches may have had the smallest thing to do with this tragedy.

  • eagleone

    13 January 2011 8:59PM

    Beck said the president should have made the speech earlier

    Well, if the memorial had been held earlier, he would have done. But it wasn't, so he didn't.

  • acnjfan

    13 January 2011 9:08PM

    This was a defining moment for Obama, and he rose to the occasion majestically. This is what he does so well, he's articulate, sincere and noble, yes, I used the word noble. Sarah Palin? She still doesn't get that not everything is about her -- thanks again, John McCain, for unleashing her on the world.

  • paulbecke

    13 January 2011 9:28PM

    Only problem is, Ms Giffords didn't rush to blame the politically-driven, infantile, Bruce Willis-type, "Die Hard", "mad dog", machismo, redneck demagoguery of the Republicans. She predicted where it would lead, since, as she said, actions have consequences. A favourite theme as I recall of the right.
    Where does that leave Obama's peroration? It would seem that the reverse is true; that Obama's blandishments were premature, ill-considered and arguably, a betrayal of Ms Giffords and her downright common-sense warning. No wonder Beck was full, of praise for his speech. Not so much as an asbo or a community service order.

    I wonder how Beck, Palin et al would have reacted if, unlike Ms Gifford's, Obama's speech had not been anachrostic, nay even more tardy than Beck implied, but anticipated all that murder and mayhem. A tad unsympathetic, I suspect, since their rants are the proper matter at issue; not the post-mortem reaction of decent souls to them.

    Well, we can but hope that the tenour of the redneck voice of the Republican right really does become more temperate - even sane, as a consequence of Obama's attempts at reconciliation with the agents of such feral politics.

  • dtroppy

    13 January 2011 9:29PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • pepper11

    13 January 2011 9:30PM

    This was a "performance" to remember. But don't worry, tomorrow Obama will be back to his hatefull, condescending self....calling people out, telling people to get in the back, taking the citizens of AZ to court rather than protect them and their borders. Yep, quite the performance indeed. Although I have to say that his speach writer is fabulous and he does read very well.

  • BiteMe2

    13 January 2011 9:31PM

    This comment has been removed by a moderator. Replies may also be deleted.

  • neutralpaddy

    13 January 2011 9:31PM

    And how ingenious of Obama to centre the standards we should all rise to at the level of that beautiful untainted nine year olds pure imagination ?

  • neutralpaddy

    13 January 2011 9:37PM

    I sense some of our American cousins are on here and there isn't enough love in the air.... Well bless you all.. We love you even when you are upset.. Night night each & every one of you...

  • vintel7

    13 January 2011 9:49PM

    President Obama is a class act and those of us that have supported him from the beginning have always known that this President is an extraordinary human being with natural goodness. We are extremely proud of Our President. Our American President Barack Obama.

  • vintel7

    13 January 2011 9:51PM

    Obama's speech contrasted drastically with Palin's toxic rhetoric. Last night, Obama was the President we always knew him to be.

  • Communicationalist

    13 January 2011 10:05PM

    I'm just about ready to forgive him for threatening members of a boy band not to go sniffing around his daughters or else he'd have them droned.

    I suppose everybody makes crass off the cuff comments when they are intoxicated by power. On the other hand, I took his photo off my wall then, and I'm not about to put it back up quite yet...

  • cjtalamantez

    13 January 2011 10:16PM

    Ewen MacAskill,

    Are you kidding that the right liked Obama's speech? I am a right winger.

    The memorial was pimped as a pep rally such free campaign shirts and slogan. The colleges students were rude by cheering loudly at the event.

    The memorial was not given the proper respect.

  • vonlenska

    13 January 2011 10:18PM

    @BiteMe2 - Why are some Americans so obsessed with this idea of the British lording it over them? I think that many of us just find Beck & Palin rather crass, regardless of their nationality. There are many, many Americans whom I (and many other CiFers, I'm sure) respect and admire.

    Our "entire history" goes back many, many thousands of years, and only a relatively small part of that was empire. Condemning over-the-top rhetoric by a pair of power-crazed media loons has nothing to do with it. The history of one's country of origin does not preclude political debate (and given the issues of slavery and segregation I'm pretty sure that Obama is uncomfortable with many aspects of US history). Take your false equivalence elsewhere.

    (And by the way? There are plenty of people of Irish descent here in the UK, too. I'm one of them. I'm sorry that your grandparents were so hateful.)

  • ksengage86

    13 January 2011 10:23PM

    @dornadair was it the speech that moved you? or the content of the speech (the tragic loss of a 9 year old girl) that brought you to tears...I found moments of the speech to be emotional, but only the parts that dealt with the girl...I immediately became aware of how ridiculous they were using this sad death in order to gain a few political points...I did like the speech and thought it was necessary but it seemed more like a pep rally with all of the cheers and loud antics of the audience...was it not supposed to be a heartfelt "memorial"?

  • Cardo

    13 January 2011 10:56PM

    Obama stands as a man who seems to care for and about people, not ideology but that that they can live fair and rewarding lives.

    Most of the world sees that but half of America seem blind to his qualities.

  • WhollyMacrel

    13 January 2011 10:59PM

    Speech makers are a dime a dozen. Those with teams of writers usually churn out reasonably coherent talk.

    However, leaders who can turn a society away from entrenched, chronic and compulsive violence...
    that's a different story.

  • fruitcoverednails

    13 January 2011 11:48PM

    Some of the comments from attendees at the speech implying that coming together after tradegy is particularly American demonstrates the lingering arrogance hindering the nation from moving forward.

    p.s. half my family are American so save it.

  • kenalexruss

    13 January 2011 11:55PM

    All Palin had to do here was say she was sorry about the tragedy - nothing more. Instead, she warped the whole madness into some absurd diatribe on how she was the victim.

    All Obama had to do was not follow Palin - he didn't. The rest is history.

    It's times like these that make me proud to be an American. Obama understood that, Palin never will.

  • jake69

    14 January 2011 12:05AM

    It's due time that Glenn Beck and the right of right wing Fox News people gave this president a break. Some of the things these commentators say would have been sedition and treason in the 'old days'.
    Well done Mr. President. Hiss boo Mrs Palin.

  • michaeldownunder

    14 January 2011 12:15AM

    I was sent a pair of pictures of what appear to be identical twins. One is a picture of an evil, warped, smirking lunatic who preaches assassination and murder and hates America. The second is a picture of Loughlen. The first is Glen Beck.

    Have a look at those two. Identical.

  • DavidPSummers

    14 January 2011 12:23AM

    His tone contrasted sharply with that of Sarah Palin, who stoked controversy by referring to a "blood libel" against her.

    It was just as important that he explicit opposed the meme that Republicans were to blame for the shooting.

    The European press has done a very bad job of covering this. I has generally toed the partisan line that it is only the right that is to blame for nasty rhetoric and that it is reasonable to blame the Republicans for the shooting. The polls show that most people (including a lot of Democrats) don't buy this.

    Obama speech got broad support because, in fact, he understood this. He avoided partisan finger pointing talked about the rhetoric on both sides. If he hadn't, the speech wouldn't have been the success it was.

  • AdInfinitum101

    14 January 2011 12:41AM

    All Palin had to do here was say she was sorry about the tragedy - nothing more. Instead, she warped the whole madness into some absurd diatribe on how she was the victim.

    To be honest, I'm not sure she had much choice. Her appeal lies mainly in her straight-talking nature, her aggressive vocabulary and her belief in getting in amongst the opposition and engaging in a little verbal street-fighting. For her to do anything other than continue that would appear as a weakness. She has to defend the right to aggressive debate as it's her source of strength. Lord knows it's done enough to help her in the past.

    For what it's worth, I don't think the aggressive tone of political debate in the US had much influence (if any) on the shooting. That said, the media and the public certainly do. As seen in last year's "Rally to Restore Sanity", there are a few rumblings of disquiet with the intolerant tone of American politics. As Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Fox News know only too well, it's not always the truth that politicians have to deal with but the media and the public's perception of it. Currently it is they who are under the microscope, not the president.

    I guess it's up to the public whether this tempering of the tone of political discourse catches on, or whether America will tire of it and revert to stoking the fires of dissent. Obama's speech was fine, its tone strong and inspirational but if the desire isn't there, it will just be another fine oratory performance tucked on a shelf somewhere in the video vault.

    We'll see.

  • Monitor2010

    14 January 2011 12:44AM

    Yet again the man proves why he is the kind of national leader we hope for.

    Thus proving why the American people would be NUTS not to re-elect him next year. Forget the fact that he has been found to be unable to walk on water but a mere mortal like the rest of us.

  • Clunie

    14 January 2011 1:24AM

    It was a great speech and a much-needed one. I do hope he sees off the Tea Party who are truly scary people, even though I'm still extremely disappointed by his administration's unchanged foreign policy in the M.E, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc which seems like a straightforward continuation of Bush Jnr's or at least of the Pentagon's - but then I'm not a fan of my own government's, previous or current, there either to put it mildly, and I have a grim feeling it won't change whoever's in power.

  • MotherSays

    14 January 2011 1:32AM

    Will the Guardian be changing its name to the Beck/Palin Promotional Platform any time soon? I don't think there are even any American papers that give them so much column space. If it wasn't for the Guardian probably no one in England would ever have heard of them. Will the Guardian be calling up Beck and Palin to give comments for all of their articles. I'm sure we' all like to know what Glenn thinks about the Lib Dems conceding the Oldham by-election. Or what Sarah thinks about the... hmm there doesn't seem to be any other stories here that are actually about England. Weird.

  • Clunie

    14 January 2011 1:41AM

    MotherSays: That's odd, I'm looking at the front page and I can see at least six stories about England,one of them the lead story about the Oldham by-election, one about the Brit Awards, another about Scotland (newsflash: England isn't the whole of Britain), others about the flooding in Brazil and Australia, the Italian PM, the protests in Tunisia, etc. Maybe you weren't looking very hard? And most of this article's about Obama's speech.

    Wierd how people come to an article thread specifically to complain that the article's about the, er, subject of the article. Maybe you should go and read the other ones?

  • SwimWithoutFins

    14 January 2011 1:57AM

    For clarification, that should have said:

    And most people I met when I lived in New York (during the Bush presidency) were pretty realistic about American history and not under any illusion about the many problems with American domestic and foreign policy.


  • MotherSays

    14 January 2011 2:16AM


    Gah! You're too clever for me by far. You've seen right through my comment. So far through it in fact that you missed the obvious point that the Guardian has become bizarrely obsessed with events in America in particular, reporting every demented syllable that spews form the mouths of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.

    I'll just have to think of a more subtle way to make my point.

  • kingda

    14 January 2011 2:20AM

    This tragedy should not have come as a surprise to any watcher of the American political landscape. The demonisation of political opponents especially from the right since Obama's presidency began has shown that violence is being contemplated or anticipated more readily. Reports of right wingers showing up at townhall meetings with guns, increased during the healhcare debate. We can only hope that the advocates of intimidation will see sense after the recent events in Arizona.

  • Asquith

    14 January 2011 2:28AM

    Obama's speech was impressive, he is certainly a great orator, with a superb command of language.

    A pity, then, that he has been a timid and rather weak president in terms of policy, which in many cases has been a continuation of Bush.

  • Zakelius

    14 January 2011 2:43AM

    Call me cynical, but give it a week and things will be back to normal. Ideologically speaking, too many commentators and politicians can only see as far as the end of their nose and refuse to consider the bigger picture.

  • VenusianVan

    14 January 2011 2:46AM


    > There are many, many Americans whom I (and many other CiFers, I'm sure) respect and admire.

    The current president of the United States, for one. Intelligent, articulate, compassionate. The man is a giant stood against any of the Teabaggers or the previous incumbent of the Whitehouse. I'm a huge fan, even if he hasn't solved every problem that every person on the planet had on their wish list....

  • Bibico

    14 January 2011 2:49AM

    When Obama channels the spirit of M.L. King and others who had the flair of a preacher with the good sense to tone down the rhetoric he can be moving and inspiring. His delivery of a prepared speech contrasts sharply with his ad lib style when trying to be "presidential" in response to questions. None of the hesitation, the long "uh" between start and completion of a thought. A very good speech, meant to include every person present or watching or listening, with emotions that were genuine. It would be foolish to think he doesn't have the home field advantage leading up to the 2012 elections.

  • Lokster

    14 January 2011 2:52AM

    In truth I don't think there's many countries in the world with a history that would allow them to occupy the moral high ground. Certainly not any nation that has occupied any other. The USA has no more moral superiority in this regard than Britain, France or Spain.

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