Rethinking Obama’s performance in Tucson

How can America live up to Christina’s expectations? According to Obama, by making sure that her death “helps usher in more civility in our public discourse…because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make [the victims] proud.” In other words: Christina would have wanted us to tone down the rhetoric. The calculating Democratic strategist would have been very, very happy.

By the time he spoke in Tucson, Obama had let four days pass while some of the angriest voices in the media — his supporters — either blamed Republicans directly for the killings or blamed the GOP for creating the atmosphere in which the violence took place. During those four days, the president could have cooled the conversation by urging everyone to avoid jumping to conclusions, as he did the day after the November 2009 massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas. But he didn’t. Only after Loughner’s insanity had been indisputably established did Obama concede that politics was not to blame for the shooting.

By then, however, the president’s supporters had tied the killings to the issue of political rhetoric. In Tucson, Obama played good cop to their bad cop by assuring everyone that rhetoric had not motivated the violence. But he still brought up the topic because, he said, it had “been discussed in recent days.” Of course, it would not have been discussed in recent days had his supporters not made so many unfair accusations.