*Today President Obama delivers eulogies for the six people killed by the Arizona shooter, Jared Lee Loughner. But his speech could well prove that his perceived weakness of being too cool and aloof is his greatest strength.
The Daily Beast’s Samuel P. Jacobs spoke to past presidential speechwriters about the political minefield taking shape around the issue.
“He’s never really had a moment like this one,” says Jeff Shesol, a presidential historian and former speechwriter for Bill Clinton. “What happens there will be very real and raw and immediate for him in a way that the rest of us might forget.”
President Obama flies to Tucson, Arizona, Wednesday, landing in a scene of grief, confusion, and political strife. He’ll appear at a service for the six people killed and 14 injured in the shooting rampage that gravely wounded Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords last weekend. Amid all the noise on the left and right, Obama has been noticeably tight-lipped. On Monday, he marked the tragedy with silence. Today, he’ll do it with a speech-one that offers the opportunity to comfort the country, and potentially change perceptions of his presidency.
It’s a tall order. President Clinton pulled it off in addressing the country following the Oklahoma City bombings. But then Clinton, with a tilt of his head and a bite of his lip, majored in empathy during times of crisis. George W. Bush rallied the country after the Sept. 11 attacks, projecting strength and a determination to hunt down the perpetrators and deliver swift justice. Obama is a different breed of cat. He stirred the masses selling a message of hope and postpartisan politics during the 2008 campaign. But he’s been faulted as president for his professorial demeanor, cool detachment, and inability to connect.
But Wednesday’s speech could well prove that his perceived weakness is his greatest strength. In a state plagued by ethnic tensions and a culture of death threats, at a time of hyperpartisan finger-pointing over whose words caused Jared Lee Loughner to pull the trigger, calm might be just the quality the country is looking for
The President and First Lady Michelle Obama are among numerous public officials attending the ceremony which will take place at McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus. Other attendees include Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl.
Event coverage will be available on MSNBC, CNN, CSPAN and Fox News, starting at 8 p.m. ET (5 p.m. PT) tonight.