President Obama has to lose his cool, professorial approach when he speaks to the American family today.
Right now he is being pressured by the likes of Jonathan Alter and others on the left to use his speech in Tucson to castigate far-right vitriol on talk radio and cable news. That strategy would take the president into another of our daily political fights and lower his stature as our national family’s leader during a time of grief.
That is not to advise the president to ignore the heightened polarization in this political age.
There is no getting away from the bitterness that surrounded Congresswoman Gifford's last race in Arizona’s eighth congressional district. -- It would be weak for Obama to fail to understand or acknowledge that there are hard, bitter sentiments on immigration, gun control and fierce anti-government rhetoric in the southern border area of Arizona right now.
It is important to acknowledge that Rep. Giffords joined the president in taking a stand on health care reform that resulted in attacks on her and that included the military language and martial imagery that is now in dispute.
But the president has to be the leader of everyone in the family. He must acknowledge that expressing valid points of disagreement, including full-throated dissent, is part of the great American tradition. We cannot silence people, even people on the other side of the family table, without losing our stripes.
The president can acknowledge differences around that family table, but he also has to make it clear that there is no one who is not grieving the loss of a 9-year-old girl who wanted to learn about her country’s political process. He has to acknowledge that there is no one in the family who is not praying for Giffords and her family. He has to express admiration for a courageous judge who at every turned worked to keep us safe as a nation ruled by law – not violence and anarchy.
In a Fox News interview with Bill Hemmer, former Bush speechwriter and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson said there is a proper way for Obama to address the issue of tolerance in the wake of Saturday’s shootings, but cautioned that over-politicizing it would be a serious mistake.
“If you take what is a human virtue, praising a human virtue and try to make it into a political argument, this looks like you are exploiting a tragedy, rather than rising to the moment.”
President Clinton counseled the nation to embrace their anger after the Oklahoma City bombing, but to channel it away from hate and into a search for justice.
President Reagan spoke to America’ school children after a school teacher died in the Challenger explosion, reassuring them that space exploration remained a national goal and celebrating the American family's tradition of brave explorers.
In a similar way, President Bush gave what most regard as his most memorable speech at the National Cathedral after 9/11. It was there that he too spoke about the American family's kindness, American love and American perseverance in the face of adversity.
As he prepares to give his speech today in Tucson, it is up to Obama to speak for us as one family and not to fall victim to invitations to further divide, chastise, lecture or worst of all, politicize. His job is to go beyond healing. America is looking for more of what he offered hours after the attack on Saturday: the ability to inspire us and to move beyond this terrible moment as one family.
Juan Williams is a writer and Fox News political analyst.