First Impressions: President Obama’s Tribute to Slain Victims

President Obama Pays Tribute to Victims

Roughly an hour ago, President Obama delivered a poignant speech in front of thousands of mourners at the McKale Center here in Tucson, Arizona. In times of grief, we look to our leaders for comfort, to sympathize with our losses and to assure us that all is not lost. Disagree as we may with President Obama’s policy decisions, his speech tonight was a message of solidarity and one that exuded both sorrow and hope.

While mostly composed, President Obama painted a portrait for each the victims that fell at the hands of Jared Lee Loughner. And with a humble demeanor, he acknowledged the open uncertainty precipitating this tragedy. “For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack.” He continued, “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.”

Immediately thereafter, President Obama also chided the division and finger-pointing plainly evident since Saturday. He explained, “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.”

The wounds inflicted by Loughner will not heal overnight and some scars will forever remain. But these scars borne by the families and remembered by the nation are still part of that fabric of American exceptionalism. Through these times we must never forget that, “the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”

Well said Mr. President.

Note: The full text of President Obama’s speech can be found here.

Politicizing Jared Lee Loughner

Political vitriol has a way of seeping through the channels of public discourse and find its fount in tragedy. Yet, Jared Lee’s Loughner’s despicable crime has nothing to do with politics; it has everything to do with mental instability. As one prolific blogger noted:

By most accounts, the gunman was a certifiably deranged lunatic rather than a politically motivated assassin. Most, if not all, of suspect Jared Lee Loughner’s YouTube postings make no sense. In one video, Loughner talks about “informing literate dreamers” and the importance of “conscience dreaming,” and his hopes of forming a new currency.

Unfortunately, the attempted assassination of a politician gave life to leftists blogs, media outlets, and even public officials seeking almost to score political points from the tragedy. Shockingly, these points were scored virtually minutes after the ambulances arrived on scene. The news media was quick to announce that Arizona – with its border issues and SB-1070 rallies – was the hotbed of political discontent. But the news stories simply didn’t hold water as more facts came to light: “conscious dreaming” and a “new currency” simply isn’t a Tea Party issue – much less an uttered expression. Even so, while “conscious dreaming” hadn’t been made into a political issue, someone held the blame. But who? Surely a liberal would not shoot another liberal right? Who would assassinate a Democratic congresswoman?

The answer is not: tea-party members, border “minutemen”, Republicans, radical Christians, the media, or veterans. A deranged individual like Loughner may possess one or more of those labels, but to mercilessly gun down a group of people is not the mark of a rational person. What is the political statement in killing a nine-year-old girl? Regardless of ideology, such tragedies must be recognized for what they are: tragedies. Political pot-shots should be taken in other venues, not here.

Though the left-leaning outlets certainly used these killings as political fodder, the conservative right isn’t necessarily blameless either. Many shock jocks radio talk shows and websites like the Drudge Report were quick to point out the hypocrisy leveled against them – sometimes couching the response in the form of a taunt.

At the end of the day, Jared Lee Loughner bears responsibility for his actions. Instead of reading tea leaves to find the hidden extreme right-wing motive underlying the slayings, those propagating “news” must understand that politicizing Loughner’s actions do a disservice to both the left – and the right.

Remembering John Roll

To those close friends and families of those slain last Saturday morning outside the Safeway grocery store, January 8 will mark a profound loss that will – even with the passage of time – likely leave an indelible imprint for years and decades to come. The unjustified taking of any life at the hands of another is never acceptable – whether that person be a politician, a judge, a nine-year-old girl, or an elderly retiree.

Some pundits have listed Arizona as the epicenter of violence – from the passage of SB-1070 to Judge Roll’s certification of a lawsuit brought forth by illegal immigrants against ranchers here in Southern Arizona. Even Sheriff Dupnik – in his official capacity – outrageously decried Arizona as the “Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

While unfortunate that this tragedy has resulted in political finger-pointing, it’s important to remember those lives so indiscriminately taken – among those Chief Judge John Roll. Though I have met Judge Roll personally, I better knew of him through reputation. In 2008, he lectured during my Blackstone Internship and also at the law school.

Many others can, and have, extolled his soundness as a lawyer and jurist; but I knew of his character commitment to the faith. Anytime a solid Christian passes away, a time for mourning is all but inevitable – not only at death, but also for the void that is left from that pillar in the family and the community. If there is a ever a glimmer it is this: for those in Christ, death is not the end. Even the worst tragedies can birth well-springs of life, of hope, and of a stronger future. May God raise up other lawyers and defenders of truth to take his place.


Update: In a powerful tribute to Judge Roll, federal courthouses around the nation lower flags to half-mast.