IT is a big claim to make but having read the full text of Barack Obama's speech in Tucson, Arizona, on Wednesday, I think there is a good chance that it will come to be regarded as worthy of standing beside President Clinton's speech in Oklahoma City in 1995, President Kennedy's Inaugural Address in
1961 and even of Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech in 1963. Each of these was a response to a particular set of circumstances but none, I think, had to address an American society as dangerously fragmented as President Obama was obliged to do. He acknowledged the need for opposing opinions but urged that discourse should be conducted with civility and respect -- It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not wounds. He also counselled against finding simple explanations of the killings in Tucson last Saturday -- What we can't do is to use this tragedy as one more occurrence to turn on one another.
Although Obama has been abused by his right-wing opponents more than any other president in recent history -- by people who deny his American citizenship, who compare him with Hitler and who claim that God wants his health care reforms repealed -- his speech ignored such vilification, just as it ignored Sarah Palin, and instead concentrated on the overriding need for a president to bind his nation together.