I thought that President Obama’s speech last night was pitch perfect in a challenging environment. As others have said, it is reminiscent of Reagan after the Challenger Disaster, Clinton after the Oklahoma City Bombing, or Bush after 9/11.
I have spent much of the past decade of my life studying great communication and great leadership. As a pastor with both preaching and leadership responsibilities, studying great speakers and leaders was both my passion and professional development.
As a speaker — and as a leader — Obama definitely has his highs and lows. His speeches can soar or they can sour. Sometimes he is a joy to listen to, and other times he gets bogged down in “professorial” mode and gets lost amongst his own thoughts. I would assess his leadership the same way. Much of the last two years has been a tale of two presidents.
But last night in Tucson, Obama nailed it.
I don’t know if it will go down as a speech for the ages, but it was the speech that was needed for that day.
Part eulogy, part sermon, part teaching moment… he intertwined story with spiritual content with wisdom with even the right political tone — all in one speech.
In one sense, WHAT TO SAY in a speech like this is not rocket science. It is really all about the execution. And he executed perfectly.
His decision to use so many personal stories of the victims and heroes, his deft and appropriate — but not overdone — use of scripture, his moral call to honor the dead with greater democracy and civility… powerful and well done.
One of the challenges he faced was that (I suspect) he wrote a speech for a somber memorial gathering. But then he had to deliver the speech to a 14,000 person crowd that was more celebration (pep rally) than memorial. He had no choice in this matter… it just happened. I can tell you from speaking and organizing at funerals, memorials, candlelight vigils, etc — you never really know what the moment will demand. This is what they needed in Tucson. And he rolled with it… and he rolled with it well.
Certainly the two best moments of the speech were, first, when he was able to announce that Gabby had opened her eyes for the first time. It was a powerful and healing and hopeful moment. And second, his closing image of 9-year old Christina Taylor Green jumping in rain puddles in heaven, was a perfect way to end the speech — along with his call to live up to the dreams Christina had for our democracy.
This speech was presidential and pastoral — and exactly what Tucson, and the nation, needed.
Well done, Mr. President.