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Late Night: Obama’s Tucson Speech and the Progressive Moral Vision

In his post here yesterday morning about President Obama’s speech in Tucson, David Dayen mentioned the core rhetorical element of the address:

… an admonition to make our talk and actions worthy of the extraordinary people involved in that tragedy in Tucson. He does this often, this appeal to our better angels.

Obama did it most manipulatively powerfully in the section where he spoke of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year old girl killed in the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords:

She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful.  She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model.  She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want to live up to her expectations.  (Applause.)  I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.  I want America to be as good as she imagined it.  (Applause.)  All of us -– we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations. (Applause.)

Aside from being an uplifting thought, there’s a political undercurrent to this message that shouldn’t be overlooked.  To understand it, perhaps it helps to remember that in the month before this week’s tragedy, conservatives were attempting to fabricate a controversy over Obama’s praise for the motto “E Pluribus Unum.”

The simple notion that the people of this country can come together for a common purpose (“from many, one”) — and express that purpose through their government — is antithetical to the right-wing worldview.  The conservative political message isn’t that we’re all in this together; it’s that you’re on your own and the government is your enemy.  As Harold Meyerson wrote for the Washington Post this week, it’s this commonly expressed, fundamental paranoia that is taken to its most extreme conclusion by people like Jared Loughner.

I was in a mall when I first heard about the Giffords shooting.  Nearby, a perky mom with three young kids was talking on the phone and said, “Oh, they’ve started shooting them? (smiles)  Get ’em all!”

In a narrow sense, David Dayen is right when he says that President Obama needs to apply the philosophy behind his Tucson speech to his policies.  But the mom I overheard in the mall needed to hear Obama’s words for a deeper reason.  (I wish I could be sure that she did.)

The message that we as a people can be better, that we can use our government to help achieve that — and that the best part of ourselves demands that we try — is one that transcends this election cycle and the next one.  There’s a longer game to be played here, and all of us need to be part of it.

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Swopa has been sharing prescient, if somewhat anal-retentive, analysis and garden-variety mockery with Internet readers since 1995 or so, when he began debunking the fantasies of Clinton-scandal aficionados on Usenet. He is currently esconced as the primary poster at Needlenose (