Schram: Taking measure of Obamaís Tucson leadership
Scripps Howard News Service
By MARTIN SCHRAM
Scripps Howard News Service
Official Washington and ordinary America, having paused and grieved, have now appropriately moved on. Even Tucson, where the pain of tragedy and loss will never be forgotten, has gotten to the point where its citizens can pick up and carry on with life.
We are led, in our moving on, by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose determination to live and recover has inspired us all. And we have been counseled, wisely and eloquently, by President Obama, who may have reached the apex of his presidential leadership at a moment where we perhaps needed it most. For until he spoke, we had let the act of an assassin who killed six and wounded a dozen more January 8, become our excuse for descending into a bitter politics of grief through recrimination that had begun fueling the fires of hate it sought to extinguish.
Now we are at the tipping point Obama had counseled us about: The beginning of the rest of our private and (for a news-dominating few) public lives. So we all are watching, listening and hoping that the politicians in our midst have the restraint and willingness to heed Obamaís call that we honor the Tucson victims by living up to their example. Especially, by living up to the expectations of the youngest victim, nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who had just been elected to her school student council and had been brought to the event so she could meet her congresswoman.
ěI want to live up to her expectations,î said the president at the Tucson memorial event. ěI want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it.î
Obamaís speech, its conceptual framework to its eulogizing eloquence watched by 31 million on TV and a crowd of more than 14,000 live, was as personal and inspirational as most of his others since assuming office had been perfunctory and pedagogical. He lectured misbehaving politicians in a way that was neither lecturing nor political. (He mainly seemed to be cautioning fellow liberals about blaming conservative pro-gun rhetoric and symbols for the Tucson gunmanís actions, since after all there was no evidence the suspect was ever aware of such comments.)
We can only hope politicians of all persuasions got it. But now we have evidence that at least the non-politicians who make up ordinary America seem to have heard Obamaís message and have taken it to heart.
On Tuesday, a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken just after Obama spoke in Tucson reported Obamaís overall approval rating has now reached 54 percent ó the highest percentage since last April, while just 43 percent of respondents said they disapproved of the way Obama is handling his job. By comparison, last September, during the midterm election campaign, Obamaís approval rating stood at 46 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval.
But Obamaís political strategists would be wise not to get too gleeful about this latest polling turn for the better ó because much of his improvement was among voters who are still unlikely to vote for him for reelection. Among those who identified themselves as Republican voters, Obama received 22 percent approval rating for the job he is doing in the latest survey ó while last fall only eight percent of the Republican respondents approved of Obamaís job performance.
In the latest poll, 78 percent of respondents approved of the presidentís response to the Tucson shootings. Included in that were 71 percent of Republicans who said they approved of Obamaís response to the Tucson tragedy.
ěIf this tragedy prompts reflection and debate ó as it should ó letís make sure itís worthy of those we have lost,î Obama said in Tucson. ěLetís make sure itís not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle.î
This week, the politicians of both parties have rather cautiously gone back to business. The Republican-led House, where Gaby Giffords chair is temporarily vacant, is taking up a vote to repeal Obamaís healthcare reform.
The rest of us, meanwhile, are just watching and waiting. We are taking Washingtonís new civility one news cycle at a time.
(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at email@example.com.)
The Associated Press