Watch: Obama Speaks at Memorial Service in Tucson

OBAMA REMARKS AT TUCSON SHOOTING MEMORIAL

As Prepared for Delivery—

To the families of those we’ve lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona:  I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow. 

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts.  But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight.  We mourn with you for the fallen.  We join you in your grief.  And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through 

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.  They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders – representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation’s capital.  Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner” – just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.

That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets.  And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday – they too represented what is best in America.

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years.  A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona’s chief federal judge.  His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit.  He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative.  John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.

George and Dorothy Morris – “Dot” to her friends – were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters.  They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon.  Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say.  When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife.  Both were shot.  Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter.  A gifted quilter, she’d often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered.  A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together – about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy’s daughters put it, “be boyfriend and girlfriend again.” When they weren’t out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ.  A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux.  His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.

Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion – but his true passion was people.  As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks.  He died doing what he loved – talking with people and seeing how he could help.  Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.

And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green.  Christina was an A student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer.  She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her.  She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, “We are so blessed.  We have the best life.”  And she’d pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.  Our hearts are broken – and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday.  I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak.  And I can tell you this – she knows we’re here and she knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.

And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others.  We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive.  We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload.  We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives.  And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle.  They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength.  Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned – as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us.  It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward.  How can we honor the fallen?  How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations – to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless.  Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.  Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding.  In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.”  Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

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.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy.  We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

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.

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family – especially if the loss is unexpected.  We’re shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward.  We reflect on the past.   Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder.  Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us?  Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.  We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives.  Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order.  We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions – that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.  For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong.  We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them.  In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners.  Phyllis – she’s our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son.  In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law.  In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina…in Christina we see all of our children.  So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example.  If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.  Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents.  And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.  It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better.  Those who died here, those who saved lives here – they help me believe.  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.  I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed.  Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future.  She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something 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 us to live up to her expectations.  I want our democracy 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.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.”  On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life.  “I hope you help those in need,” read one.  “I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart.  I hope you jump in rain puddles.”

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today.  And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace.  May He love and watch over the survivors.  And may He bless the United States of America.

 

Comments

  1. Meh says

    Sounded like a campaign speech. I voted for him, but I found it inappropriate. This should have been more somber, and the fangurls in the audience should have been asked in advance to sit down, shut up, and behave like adults.

    I’ll tell ya, between the wingnuts who incited it and Obama who milked it, I really worry about the future.

  2. Joe Mama says

    Meh, I’m not sure what you watched. President Obama gave a somber speech, and spoke to the better spirits in us all. No finger pointing, no political gain. Just celebrating what is best. He is not responsible for the reactions of fan girls – this is a free country – which I agree was annoying. But to call that a political speech is a stretch. Compare it to the self-indulgent whine from Palin today and tell me who used this event for political posturing.

  3. michael says

    Wow, it only took until the second post for someone’s inner cynic to emerge. Oh well.

    Tonight’s speech reminded me why I voted for this man. He was sensitive and extremely articulate. How refreshing to see that in one of our politicians.

  4. Zlick says

    This is the one part of the job we know Obama can do well, and he did not disappoint. The section about the lives and loves of those who were killed was spot-on perfect, and had me in tears. The tone was perfect throughout. If only more of a successful presidency depended on being an incredibly eloquent speaker. But for those many times the position requires it, we certainly elected the right man for the job.

  5. Richard says

    The boisterous reaction from the grieving audience was surprising at first but then I found it inspiring. These people clearly needed to shout and stand and let their emotions roll out.

    I thought the Presidents speech was very moving and pitch perfect. All of us, including some who visit this site, can use some lessons in treating one another with more civility.

  6. spiderseye says

    I think his ending comments on living up to the dreams of the little girl are exactly what people need to think about now. And I’m usually a huge cynic and have very little tolerance for President as Preacher.

  7. Meh says

    At least Bill Clinton had the stones to tell Rush Limbaugh to put a sock in it after the Oklahoma City bombings. Obama? He holds a pep rally. The guy deserves the electoral loss he’s going to get in 2012. Pussy.

  8. Name: says

    He was doing what he does best, campaigning. Thank God Modern Family started from the beginning. Late, but from the beginning. I could care less about politics at this point. They all just want our money, they help their friends when they get elected and complain about the other party. Modern Family though was hilarious.

  9. LiamB says

    Really, Meh? It’s people like you that just continue the cycle of escalation. The very thing you so shortsightedly feel he should of done, would have only succeeded in driving a larger wedge. The way he handled this was about a appropriate as one could, giving the situation.

  10. wtm says

    The revelation that she’d opened her eyes was very moving. Also, when he talked about Christina, it made me cry for all of the nieces and nephews in my life, and I could tell he was thinking of his daughters. This whole thing has been unexpectedly traumatic for me, and yet now I feel like I can move forward. I know this is all very generic, but it’s all I can muster.

  11. mwalker says

    At first I found the cheering and clapping to be pretty odd for a memorial service. But then I was reminded that this is the first good thing to happen to Tucson since Saturday, and I can’t gainsay the people’s need to let loose a little. Thanks to the President and the other speakers, they let loose in a positive way. That’s leadership. Thank you, Mr. President!

  12. isaacben says

    I was moved and inspired. It was a little weird that Holder and Napolitano read bible verses but I thought Obama was spot-on and gave a beautiful and beautifully felt speech.

  13. Zlick says

    I was one who thought Obama should speak out against violent political rhetoric, but knew this was not the venue for it. I’d hoped he would save that for another time, perhaps a week or two from now. But he’s telegraphed his usual desire to stay above that particular fray, and I cannot argue with that choice. It may come off a little weak, but entirely presidential. Without being so mean as to be meaning to, he certainly made mincemeat of Sarah Palin in Statesmanship 101 this day.

  14. KMC says

    In regards to the Bible readings, the Repugs can no longer say Democrats are without morals.

    In regards to our AZ Governor, boy talk about egg on her face! The guy that possibly saved Congresswoman Gifford’s life is both gay and latin – two things she hates. Then to have a President, who she has severely criticized in the past, to come to Arizona and speak graciously. And of course, the crowd giving big love to Janet Napolitano really had to stick in her craw. She is probably drunk on her ass at this moment.

    Obama’s speech was spot on. Passionate, respectful and somber.

    Where was John McCain? I saw the wife but not him!

  15. mad1026 says

    Mr Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, had more pressing business…raising money for Maria Cino, who’s running to lead the RNC. Boner really shows where his respect lies. Bipartisanship, my ass!

  16. says

    Andy: I found Obama’s speech moving too. Today is the 1 year anniversary of my brothers death and I agree with the President. We want these deaths to make a difference…we can’t change this tragedy, but we can change ourselves and make ourselves and this country better in order to honor those we have lost.

  17. says

    The bible verses were from a couple of the best stylists in scripture. The language was beautiful, although I would have preferred something about justice for the oppressed. And seeing Hernandez next to the Pres. was so great. We’ve come a ways since poor Mr. Sipple.
    But the cheering was in bad taste, I thought. College people have no sense of decorum. And Obama seems to have agreed. He kept trying to talk over them.

  18. neverstops says

    thought it was a beautiful speech

    much needed for the country at this time

    when he was talking about each of the victims i was really moved

    it’s too bad that people can pull negativity out of it, but oh well

  19. boone68 says

    “Those who died here, those who saved lives here — they help me believe. 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. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.” Barack Obama, January 12, 2011, Tucson, AZ

  20. jamal49 says

    @MEH One gets the impression that you are a miserable, tacky, petty, cynical and vulgar prick. May you find something in your life to fill the vast emptiness that consumes you.

    Failing that, get lost.

  21. John says

    At a time when the whole nation is grieving, the speech was thought-provoking and a testament to the fallen and survivors. My empathies to the people of Tucson.

  22. Sqqueak says

    “On Saturday morning, Gabby. . . .blah,blah,. blah . . . fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders . . . Gabby called it “Congress on Your Corner” – just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets”
    Irony? Seems to some outsiders that bullets are an integral part of the “quintessential American scene” If ya live by them you might expect to die by them too.

  23. Terry says

    President Obama can talk about the violent political rhetoric in greater length in the State of the Union address later this month. And I believe he’ll use that occasion to go into the need to become more civil in our political speech.

    I thought last night’s speech was magnificent. I choked up when he mentioned Representative Giffords’ eyes opening for the first time. Thank you, Mr. President. Your talk was needed and appreciated.

  24. kimmer says

    I, too, was incredibly moved, and grateful for the display of leadership. In times like this, a leader calms people’s fears and quells their cynicism. Unlike rabble rousers, who simply use the occasion to create discord. Very well done, Mr. President.

    And yeah, at first I was surprised by the crowd’s reaction. But then I remembered that this is a small town. And they needed something to bring them together, something to make them feel hopeful about the future. Grieving takes its own course, even in groups, and I’m in no position to judge it.

  25. says

    President Obama was like a Designated Hitter, and he came through in the clutch. The right words and at the right place and time. I recall the politics of assassination when JFK,ML King,Bobby were killed… these were people known nationally. However in 1978, I knew how it felt on a local level when Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated… I knew them both. Listening to President Obama talk about the victims, made me feel like I knew them,too. Thank you Mr. President for being there for us, and bringing us together as a nation without pointing fingers.

  26. MammaBear says

    The event was bizarre – in structure it was way more pep rally than memorial, which many will have found disturbing and surreal.

    However, Mr. Obama’s speech was brilliant in every way. Long after the cheering, t-shirts, and valleys exalted/mountains laid low patter have receded from our memory, his inspirational and aspirational words will remain.

    “It’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” It seems unlikely, even impossible, but it’s a beautiful dream.

  27. treefrog says

    It was too long. He should have cut the middle section, it was way to political and sounded like a stump speech instead of a memorial. It needed to be about the victims and injured, at that is all but being a politician, the writers couldn’t miss the opportunity. Sad but typical.

  28. justiceontherocks says

    Compare and contrast: the measured and positive response of Obama to the anger and anti-Semitism of the former Alaska governor.

    I could do without all the scriptural references, but I think an upbeat message was the right tone. That area has mourned enough. I give him an “A.”

  29. Chitown Kev says

    @Meh

    And President Obama may do the partisanship thing at some future time BUT that is not what President Clinton said at the actual memorial service for the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.

    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/wjcoklahomabombingspeech.htm

    “To all my fellow Americans beyond this hall, I say, one thing we owe those who have sacrificed is the duty to purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil. They are forces that threaten our common peace, our freedom, our way of life. Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind. Justice will prevail.”

    William Jefferson Clinton
    April 23, 1995
    Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

  30. yaaah69 says

    I live in Gabby’s district in Bisbee , Az . Just a few miles from the border . I am a transplanted Democrat . What I saw was a President who did not become a politician but spoke from the heart about a tragedy that did not have to happen. The mental case who did this had a focus on Gabby due to the rhetoric of an aggressive woman in Alaska. There is no way around it and you can throw in McCain to boot. They are both the hate mongers of the political machine and they cannot evade that tag. The timing was all that the assassin needed , a bulls eye for him to follow. Everyone I know in this area liked Gabby even most republicans . Also I think I saw McCain snub the President when he went over to the McCain group , if so he IS a little person , if you saw different let me know! He cannot be 5′ so he might have been blocked by a camera. The speech was bipartisan . Not political. There will always be some goof who will say that it was political , and I do not know why.

  31. gr8guyca says

    Obama is bad with soundbites and catchphrases.

    Palin is good with soundbites like, “mama grizzly,” and “death panels.”

    Obama is great with inspiring rhetoric and calls to our better selves.

    Palin is bad at honest emotion and empathy for others.

    But why do we even CARE about her? She’s not an elected official or even a viable candidate for any office. Please go away.

  32. SCVMalcolm says

    Finally, we have a President again, who truly sounded Presidential!!
    Even Republican former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld said: “At a time when our nation needed it, President Obama delivered moving, presidential remarks last night.”

  33. Bobby says

    I was at the memorial last night, very touching and moving night. President Obama’s speech was excellent. the entire night was a great shot in the arm for Tucson. It’s been a long and very sad week here and this was just what the city needed. It will be a night I will never forget

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