[Full video below.] In Tucson to eulogize the victims of last weekend’s tragic shooting, President Obama somberly called for an end to the political blame game that erupted in the wake of the tragedy and urged Americans not to use it as “one more occasion to turn on each other.”
Instead, Obama told an overflow crowd of more than 14,000 people at the University of Arizona the moment should prompt Americans to step back and reflect on how they lead their own lives and how they deal with one another.
“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 happen to 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,” Obama said.
Referencing the finger-pointing that has taken place over the last several days, Obama warned of trying to find “simple explanations” in the aftermath. “Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,” the president said.
The truth, he said, is that “none of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”
The emotional high point came early in the speech, as the president drew an exultant cheer from the crowd by breaking from his prepared remarks to announce that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the attack on Saturday, had opened her eyes for the first time.
“Gabby opened her eyes. So I can tell you, she knows we are here,” Obama said. “And she knows that we love her and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey.” The president spoke shortly after visiting the bedside of Giffords, who was shot and critically injured while meeting constituents at a Tucson grocery.
Obama also used the speech to return the nation’s focus to the six people who lost their lives last Saturday, noting that they were fulfilling “a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders” by attending the Giffords event.
“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,” Obama said. “And if… 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.”
In particular, Obama focused on the life of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was killed at the event. Green, who is the same age as Obama’s youngest daughter, Sasha, attended the event out of her growing curiosity about democracy, the president noted, at times becoming emotional.
He urged Americans to view democracy and their role in the country as Green did in her final days.
“She saw all of this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often take for granted,” Obama said. “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”
Click below for a full video of Obama’s speech: