Asking for Decency from an Indecent People:
President Obama's speech last night at the University of Arizona in Tucscon was everything it needed to be. It was lovely and simple: a reflection on the lives of those who had been killed followed by a call that their deaths have some meaning beyond being bullet-beds for a madman's gunfire. The point wasn't that violence in discourse caused their murders; it was that terrible events sometimes ask us to reflect and reflections can lead to change. By focusing, time and again, on the life of 9 year-old Christina Taylor Green, the President placed the thrust of his speech on the potential future. He wasn't merely asking that we be good people because a little girl was shot. No, he said, "I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it. All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
In other words, there's an America that exists, an ideal one, no more or less than Reagan's shining city, but unlike the dead Gipper's faith that it was in existence, President Obama placed it on a precipice that requires us to work together if we're ever going to reach it. In the McKale Memorial Center, the 13,000 people cheered and applauded. This was Tucson, where the tragedy occurred, a small one, in the scheme of things, but one that resonates because of how our nation is quickly devolving into disarray and disunion.
Of course, he was immediately attacked for politicizing the event (even though he specifically honored a Republican federal judge, even mentioning John McCain, which got applause). The crowd was criticized for clapping and cheering too much (the mourning police demand silence). The t-shirts that were given out for free were criticized for being too blue or something. (To be "fair," there are conservatives who have praised the speech.)
We are not, though, a nation of the goodhearted people Obama presented us as. We have become a nation where there's so much noise that only the screams get heard. We fall into a couple of camps: in one, the vast majority of the country, the apathetic who have decided that it's all white noise and just want to be left alone while they try to get or keep a job, pay the bills, and live a life that doesn't suck; in the other, that small tincture bottle's worth of Americans who engage, who understand that democracy is a responsibility and not just a term that you might learn for a high school social studies test. And in that bottle, there's the drops of poison, the people who do not seek to better the nation at large, who see only individuals rather than a society, who, in essence, hate the concept of a more perfect union.
Those are the savages. Some of them are elected savages. Some of them are the media savages. Some of them are the kind of savages who anonymously post things on blog or website comment sections because seeing their vileness in print makes it appear like valid discourse. The savages will not be converted.
See, that was the problem with the Christian missionaries who went out into the jungles and deserts and rainforests and plains. They didn't understand that the ones who could be saved weren't the natives in some tiny tribe that was perfectly happy eating monkey brains and sacrificing people to their own demanding gods. No, they should have preached to their own people, back in their mad European nations, and tried to make them better souls. All they got for their colonizing trouble was death, despair, and eventual revolution.
In other words, President Obama needs to speak, as he did last night, to that apathetic majority. It's what he did in 2008. It's what he needs to do now. He can't attempt to unify people again, he can't rouse people from their TV and iShit-induced slumbers, and leave them to make their way without direction. Leave the savages to fight their internecine wars. They will tire or go extinct. The rest of the nation wants to know what needs to be done and how they can be part of doing it. Again.
The Rude Pundit (who, yes, does write with anger and uses violent imagery, and does so unapologetically because he does believe in a more perfect union and despises those who seek to wreck it) has a favorite image from last night's rally, one that, to his mind, says something about our potential future: Seated in the front row was Gabrielle Giffords' savior and intern, Daniel Hernandez, who also spoke beautifully about the meaning of the events of last Saturday. He is a large, gay, Hispanic man. Seated behind him was Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, who has opposed rational immigration measures and held up START until he was appeased. The coverage on ABC showed Kyl constantly having to contort himself to look around Hernandez in order to see the stage.