In preparing his speech, Obama had called and talked to the hurt and the survivors. He could tell their personal stories. Michelle Obama invited the family of the murdered nine-year-old to visit her in the White House. Obama came to the speech from the bedsides of those who had been wounded. Their message to him was one of dedication: “They believed, and I believe, that we can be better.” This rang a bell with me. It reminded me of the lesson of the fallen that Lincoln took from Gettysburg—“that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” At Gettysburg Lincoln might have been expected to defend the North and blame the South—which is what Edward Everett did in the speech preceding his. Rather, the bulk of his speech was given to praising the dead and urging others to learn from them.
Wow–I bet no other public eulogies in American history from 1863 to 2011 “prais[ed] the dead and urg[ed] others to learn from them.” Right on! Except, the people Lincoln mourned were for the most part volunteers for a war against slavery—people who agreed to risk their lives in the greatest political cause of their generation. The people Obama mourned were civilians doing their grocery shopping and visiting with a Congresswoman. This is not a criticism of Barack Obama or his speech, by the way–it’s a comment on Garry Wills’s apparent inability to think straight when he hears the siren song of Obama’s speeches. They apparently are so seductive that Wills can’t actually hear their words or see their clear meaning. (Remember about a year ago, when Wills stamped his feet about Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, which was after all only a clear fulfillment of a campaign promise?) In the words of our last president, “fool me once. . . shame on, shame on you. Fool me–can’t get fooled again!
And pardon me for dropping a turd in the punchbowl, but if it were my child, or husband, or parent who had been gunned down senselessly, I would be some pissed off if anyone suggested that his or her death had any larger meaning. I’m of the opinion that our earthly lives are all we have, so we have to make our own meanings of life while we have this precious gift. Death is oblivion, so premature, violent death is an unforgiveable theft. If anything happens as a result of this latest gun-fueled massacre of the innocents, let’s hope it’s something a little more important than rearranging the deck chairs seating chart for the State of the Union Address on the Titanic, or calls of more “civility” in the “discourse.”
Outlawing 31-round clips for semiautomatic weapons might be a good place to start, since according to the news reports, six people were killed by bullets, not YouTube clips of the horses’ a$$es on Fox news. (Oh, and by the way? There was an armed bystander in Tucson last Saturday morning–except he never fired his weapon, and if he had he would have fired at the wrong man. What do we say around these parts, friends? Awesome!)
By the way, WTF with the NYRB? Tenured Radical has the goods on Gordon Wood’s strange, pissy review of Jill Lepore’s latest book. It sure sounds like their stables needs mucking out. Put some of those old nags out to pasture, and find some historians who have something fresh and useful to write.