Okay, confession time. At best I’ve been at best a skeptic of President Obama’s leadership and some of his agenda. (That does not necessarily indicate how I voted. I voted for candidates I was skeptical of because given the choice, that was best alternative.) But last night I saw a very different President Obama at Newtown High School. Apparently, he gave his speech writers the day off, writing most all of what he shared. The effect: it was deeply sincere. He spoke as a parent and as a man. The teleprompters were gone. He wasn’t stumping or campaigning for anything. He was there in Newtown, Conn. as President of the United States consoling a grieving nation while promising to lead us all forward.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, we needed a caliber of leader we rarely see in today’s American leadership– a true statesman. A statesman is one who rises above personal vantage and partisan politics to speak to the nation, on behalf of the whole nation. And in the great and widening political gulf of polarized two-party politics, that is indeed one rare bird to spot. Miring himself in partisan squabble, Obama has only occasionaly shown that kind of statesmanship in the past. But last night, he perfectly embodied it in a timely, powerful way. For that he has my deepest respect.
I heard the President say several things:
- He began addressing our grief and need for consolation in very personal, spiritual terms.
- He praised the wonderful example of the people of Newtown, Conn., something I’ve rarely heard so far in all the reporting and commentary. The message: they are far more than victims.
- As a society, we are judged by the way we value and care for our children.
- We cannot go on the same. Something must change to prevent this kind violence from happening again.
- The President will bring together law enforcement, mental health professionals, educators, and parents to find solutions. (Let’s pray something truly does come out of this. We can’t stand yet another fruitless commission.)
- We must not be afraid or held back by politics on our way towards the solutions we need.
- Then the President ended on another spiritual, highly existential note as a way of moving us forward.
I know that talking heads from both sides of the aisle are presently combing this speech for clues of the President’s political agenda. I’m sure he already has ideas of what he wants to do. But I saw hardly any of that on display last night. It was very much a gentle but strong rallying together of our great nation.
We’ll see how long the President can sustain last night’s rally, but for today, he gets an A+++ from me and from many others who haven’t always been on the President’s bandwagon. I’ll be praying for the kind of leadership it will take to unite our nation towards the solutions we need. He’s going to need it! But for now:
Bravo, Mr. President.