WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s consoling, sermon-like speech at a service for the victims of the Arizona shooting rampage steered clear of politics, yet it may have given him one of the biggest political boosts since he took office two years ago.
Obama’s speech earned compliments from even some of his severest conservative critics, who used such words as “stunning” and “remarkable” to describe it. The praise from his opponents is bound to fade, but the speech could bolster Obama’s standing as a leader as he starts to deal with newly empowered Republicans in Congress and lays out his plans for the year in the State of the Union address at the end of the month.
The president spoke with fondness and gentleness of the victims — 6 dead, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl, and the 14 wounded in the attack on a U.S. congresswoman, who was critically injured with a bullet wound through her brain.
Obama gave the address on the fourth day after the attack and in the midst of swirling recriminations. Liberals were blaming the assault on the poisonous political atmosphere, which they blamed on conservatives. Conservatives were hotly denying the charge, countering that the public was naturally in an uproar over Obama’s policies and leadership.
WATCH ‘MORNING JOE’ COVERAGE OF THE PRESIDENT’S SPEECH:
The president’s approval ratings already were on the rise after what he called a “shellacking” in the November congressional elections, and the Arizona tragedy could prove a turning point for Obama at the halfway mark in his term.
The current reality is uncannily similar to what confronted former President Bill Clinton after Democrats were ravaged at the polls in 1994. Shortly afterward a bomb destroyed the federal office building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, killing 168 people. Clinton traveled there and delivered a eulogy that won much praise.
Clinton’s approval ratings jumped several points after that speech from numbers akin to Obama’s after the November vote. In Clinton’s case, his approval fell again in the months that followed, but he nevertheless managed to win re-election two years later.
So far, there have been no poll results after Obama’s Tucson speech, but his situation is somewhat better. His numbers were already on the rise after a strong of legislative successes and accommodations with Republicans in the final meeting of Congress late last year. The latest Associated Press-GFK poll put the president’s approval at 53 percent. It was 47 percent immediately after the November election.
The Tucson shooting stunned Americans and forced politicians to re-examine the hard-charging, partisan tactics expected with Republicans back in control of the House of Representatives and at a lesser numerical disadvantage in the Senate. House Republicans, for example, have postponed voting on a measure to repeal Obama’s health care overhaul legislation, most of which has yet to go into effect.
Obama’s words provoked unaccustomed kind words from the opposition.
Charles Krauthammer, a hard-edged Obama critic in his newspaper column and as a Fox News analyst, said Obama’s speech “was a remarkable display of oratory and oratorical skill in terms of tone and content.”
Peggy Noonan, the storied speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan, called it “large spirited. And it spoke from a good height about how this whole debate about civil discourse didn’t get us to that shooting.”
Glenn Beck, who rails against Obama nightly on Fox News, called the remarks “probably the best speech he’s ever given.”
But reaction from conservatives was not all bouquets.
On Michelle Malkin’s blog, for example, the comment was harsh:
“Speeches and leadership are not the same thing.
“Obama delivered one tonight, but failed at the other over the past three days as Pima County Sheriff Dupnik, Democrat Party leaders, and media abettors poisoned the public square with the very vitriol the president now condemns.
“Right speech. Too late. Awful, awful venue.”
Sheriff Dupnik is the top county law enforcement officer in the county that surrounds Tucson. He has been highly critical of right-wing rhetoric and Arizona’s lax gun laws that, he said, had turned the city into a latter-day Tombstone, Arizona, the Wild West haven for gunfighters.
As to the venue, Malkin and others complained loudly about the wild applause that regularly interrupted Obama. The critics said that was disrespectful to the victims of the tragedy.
At the University of Denver, political scientist Seth Masket said it would have been hard for any but the most extreme opponent to be critical of Obama, given “the quality of the speech” and the reason for its delivery. But doubted it would have a lasting effect on the tone of American political dialogue or Obama’s standing with the public.
“The economy and the wars (in Iraq and Afghanistan) will have a far greater impact,” he said, calling the immediate reactions to Obama and the Tucson tragedy “a temporary thing. A crisis rally effect where people tend to turn president” for direction in the short run.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.