Barack Obama’s speech at the memorial service one week ago for the victims of the Tucson shooting was, I think, the best speech I have heard from him since his 2004 Democratic National Convention address. I was moved to tears by the president’s words about Christina Taylor Green. Perhaps it was because I have a 9-year-old daughter who, like Christina, exudes wonder and “magic” every day.
But as a historian, I could not help but compare this civic funeral sermon, this call for national healing, with one of the greatest presidential addresses of all time—Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. In that speech, delivered on March 4, 1865, Lincoln was facing a nation nearing the conclusion of a long and bloody Civil War. Granted, a four-year war that took 600,000 lives does not compare with a shooting that took six, but every human life is precious. The Civil War and the Tucson shootings were tragedies. And in both cases the President of the United States stepped to the podium to try to make sense of it all.
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