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Shields and Brooks on Obama's Tucson Speech

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - January 14, 2011

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JIM LEHRER: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Mark, is the Tucson tragedy likely to change the caliber and kind of the political discourse in this country?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm hopeful, Jim. I really am.

I think that it is a time when Americans have stopped. I think that the leadership, certainly the president's, this week, and I think Speaker Boehner as well, has been thoughtful and measured. We'll see an early test and a real road test in the health-care debate next week.

JIM LEHRER: What did you think of the president's speech, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I thought it was wonderful. I thought it was -- like everyone else, it seems, I thought it was one of the best speeches he's given as president. It was a speech he was sort of born to give, someone who is a natural transcender of differences.

I guess the thing that struck me was, A., that he didn't try to have a pat theory about why what happened happened. But he used it as a sabbath, as an example, as an occasion to step back.

And, also, what struck me was the uplifting nature of the event. And some people have sort of objected to that, that it should be a moment of mourning and loss.

JIM LEHRER: Yes.

DAVID BROOKS: But many funerals are not like that. Many are celebrations of life and celebrations of the possibility of renewal. And both he and the students in the audience contributed to that. And I thought it was appropriate to do so.

And I think the lesson of the week is never underestimate the power a great speech, because it really did -- there was controversy, Sturm und Drang in the first couple days of the week after the shooting. But, after that speech, I really think there's been a psychological, emotional shift nationwide among Republicans and Democrats, which leaves me and I think a lot of people a little more hopeful that things -- you know, that there could be some lasting residue.

But I'm not sure it will happen in the health-care debate. I think we will have that debate. It will be fine. We should have that debate. But I think it creates an occasion for people to create a practical agenda to go forward.

And I think the president is thinking about that for the State of the Union address. There are some issues like tax reform. There are other issues that both parties could sort of work together on and have a conversation about. And I think the events of this week have really made that a little more likely.

JIM LEHRER: Now, you agree with that; things are a little more likely to happen?

MARK SHIELDS: About the speech?

JIM LEHRER: The speech, first of all, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: First of all, I think that there are a limited number of times in any president's career that he has a window where the public looks at him anew. Usually, it follows a tragedy. Certainly, President Reagan at the time the Challenger, President Johnson upon assuming office after the assassination, both speeches of which I went back and looked at this week.

And this was a chance for President Obama. President Obama's speeches have always been quite cerebral, quite thoughtful, well-crafted, well-delivered, but there has never been that emotional connection with the American people. His own supporters and admirers have been concerned about this.

JIM LEHRER: Said that, yes.

MARK SHIELDS: And I think, this week, he did.

I think he spoke to and for in -- in a way the country needed it. And he reaffirmed that we were a good country. And he did it, I thought, in a way that he hasn't done it before, very personally, through the lives of the people who have been the victims.

And he got particularly affecting, I thought, when he spoke about Christina. And, as the father of girls of that age, he himself undoubtedly and obviously was moved. So, I think -- I really do think it was a very important speech for the country at a unifying time. The country needed unifying.

David's absolutely right that he did not -- there weren't cheap shots in it. There was no attempt to score political points. I thought he did what a president is supposed to do and did it in a way that people now look at him with different eyes.

DAVID BROOKS: And I think he took a risk, especially in that passage about Christina, because there was the statement on the book about her when she was born, the statement that she would -- that children should dance in the rain puddles.

JIM LEHRER: She was born on...

DAVID BROOKS: On September 11.

JIM LEHRER: ... 9/11, right.

DAVID BROOKS: And so he then issued a line which I -- when he said it struck me as sort of un-Obama-like, which that now she's dancing in the puddles of heaven.

And there has been some discussion about whether that was cheesy or sort of not up to the rhetoric. I thought it was absolutely right for him to go for that, because it was an emotional connection. And it had a bit of a Hallmark card, but I thought it was him unbuttoning and really using the moment to sort of throw himself, trustingly, on the audience.

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