As the world has responded with shock and sadness over the terrible events last weekend in Tucson, I can only echo those profound feelings of loss mix with deep appreciation for those who were lost and for those who were injured, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was struck down doing her job by reaching out to her constituents.
Watching the speech of the President in Tucson, and the video post on Sarah Palin's website prompts me to explore the qualities of a Leader that are called upon in the wake of such a tragedy.
The Role of a President as a Nation Mourns
The first President in recent memory who was forced to rally a nation after a national tragedy was Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ's speech to the nation after Air Force One touched down at Andrew's Air Force base on Nov. 22nd, 1963, was succinct, spoken from the heart and with humility asked for the help of God and the American people. Simple, but powerful: LBJ speaks to the nation after Dallas
A leader has to hit the right tone and the right message in such difficult times. Presidents are called upon to try to make sense of the senseless, to bring the nation together and to find hope in times of despair. Ronald Reagan managed to do that after the Challenger explosion: Reagan comforts the nation
He was gentle in tone, sensitive to the young people who watched it live, and hopeful about the future of the space program, but his tribute to the courageous astronauts who lost their lives was a classic - deft, etched in historical context, and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God' was a powerful closer. [courtesy of Canada's Pilot Officer John Gillespie McGee's High Flight by way of Peggy Noonan.]
Bill Clinton was referred to - not without admiration - as the 'Mourner-in-Chief' because of his uncanny ability to reflect the feelings and aspirations of communities in pain. His visit and speech in Oklahoma City after the bombing of the Federal Building killed 168 people almost single-handedly raised him up from his near death-bed mid-term election. At the same time he lifted up the country with the power of his rhetoric. Bill Clinton at Oklahoma City 1995
The best speech that George W. Bush ever gave was at Ground Zero a few days after the horror of 9/11. In many ways it was not Presidential in the traditional sense, but his ad lib remarks really hit the mark - not just with the workers there - but with the public glued to their televisions looking for some sense that America would rally from that terrible day. George W. Bush with the bullhorn
Which brings us....to Sarah Palin's Missed Opportunity
Within hours of the shooting, the usual suspects came out of the woodwork trying to smear others - in particular trying to link Sarah Palin for her 'targeting' of Gabby Giffords, among others, in her political ads. Of course, this did leave her susceptible to such attacks by her critics, which obviously triggered her to post a video she titled 'America's Enduring Strength' on her Facebook page. This would be classically known as a 'missed opportunity'. Instead of keeping her focus on the victims of the shooting, and the chance to pull the nation together, she went in the opposite direction, capping her counter-attack with the now-infamous 'blood libel' phrase.
She should have been advised that she is only preaching to the converted with such a defensive video - it seemed to be more about her sense of hurt more than the victims' pain. She needed to rise above all the noise and accusations and speak from the heart as a mother, a former Governor and as a national leader.
Obama had a 'sense of the moment'
With his Tucson speech, Barack Obama was able to speak to and for the American people, while paying tribute to the victims, their families and the 'heroes'. He knew what he had to do, and he did it with passion and eloquence. Other than being somewhat lengthy, it will stand the test of time as a Leader doing the job that the people hope he will do when they are most in need. Never be partisan. Never let your anger trump your sorrow. Never let your personal issues trump your public responsibilities. If Sarah Palin were to take a deep breath, study that video and learn from it, it would really help her become a leader that can inspire a nation in troubling times.
A 'Next Generation' Leader Speaks
In case you missed it, Giffords' aide, Daniel Hernandez did a phenomenal job of speaking to what the tragedy meant. He politely declined the label of hero and conferred it on the first responders, the nurses and physicians and others. I'd say the young man has a big future in politics, don't you?
Until next time .......