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01.12.11

Obama Speech Missed an Opportunity

Sure, the president provided his usual inspiration, but he failed to shut down the ridiculous media meme that right-wing talk radio was responsible for the Arizona shootings. And how are ordinary Americans to blame?

Sure, the president provided his usual inspiration, but he failed to shut down the ridiculous media meme that right-wing talk radio was responsible for the Arizona shootings. And how are ordinary Americans to blame? Plus, more commentary on Obama's Tucson speech.

President Obama’s speech in Arizona was a huge missed opportunity.

True, as always, he delivered as “Healer-in-Chief” and provided inspiration. This was Job 1 for the speech.

But there was another job: shutting down the nonsense about how Sarah Palin or right-wing talkers caused the shooting. This matters not only because it’s important to tell the truth, but also because it would set the stage to move on to really examining the true causes of this nightmare massacre.

Obama chided Americans to “be better,” as if we somehow caused this shooting to happen.

Obama mostly chose to be vague on this point, “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.”

He did add to his prepared remarks that incivility did not cause this tragedy, but he stopped short of a full rebuke of the complete irresponsibility of those who have been stoking anger at conservatives who—as far as we know—had nothing to do with this.

When the president did lay blame, it was on Americans in general. Among the many odd assertions he made: suggesting that “what a tragedy like this requires” is that “we align our values with our actions.” We were told to “expand our moral imaginations.”

Huh?

A mentally ill gunman opened fire at a Safeway. A lack of “aligning” or “imagination” really wasn’t the problem. Obama chided Americans to “be better,” as if we somehow caused this shooting to happen. He said, “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”

Now if Obama isn’t talking about political discourse here, I don’t know what he’s talking about. Certainly he can’t be suggesting that how you treat the mailman or your mother is at issue.

Obama’s Arizona Speech: Video and Text

Full coverage of the Arizona shooting
Let’s be clear: How we “treat each other” also is not what caused this shooting. Mental illness combined with a gun and a 33-round high-capacity magazine collided to produce a tragedy. This may not have been the venue to discuss this in such pointed terms, but it also should not have been used as an opportunity to push further into the media bloodstream the lie that hostile rhetoric or incivility even played a role in this, let alone caused it.

Multiple polls have shown that Americans reject the assertion that political speech incited the shooter. Nothing has come up in the investigation to suggest it played a role. In fact, it’s been reported that a friend of gunman Jared Lee Loughner flatly rejected heated rhetoric as an issue, telling Good Morning America, “He did not watch TV. He disliked the news. He didn’t listen to political radio. He didn’t take sides. He wasn’t on the left. He wasn’t on the right.”

The friend hadn’t seen Loughner in two years, so perhaps in that intervening time he turned on the radio or television. However, police have yet to turn up such evidence. To my liberal friends: The existence of heated political rhetoric does not prove that it played a role in this shooting, unless new evidence emerges. Don’t confuse coincidence with causation. Sadly, facts don’t seem to be enough to dislodge this insidious and distracting media meme. Wednesday night brought us no closer to moving on from that.

Kirsten Powers is a columnist for The Daily Beast. She is also a political analyst on Fox News and a writer for the New York Post. She served in the Clinton Administration from 1993-1998 and has worked in New York state and city politics. Her writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Observer, Salon.com, Elle magazine and American Prospect online.