WASHINGTON — Under high expectations to provide healing, President Barack Obama on Wednesday will try to convert the horror of the Arizona shootings into a moment of national unity centering his memorial speech in Tucson on the lives of the victims and the heroism of those who rushed to stop the madness. The president was crafting his speech on Tuesday, and his aides were reluctant to discuss it even broadly in its unfinished form, other than to say it will emphasize the memories of those lost. Still, Obama’s comments since the shooting on Saturday, his experience in dealing with other tragedies and history’s guide offer signs about how he is likely to respond to this moment. At the service Wednesday night, Obama’s main mission will be to honor those who were killed by describing them in personal terms, so the country remembers how they lived, not how they died. He will seek to assure families in grief that the whole country is behind them.
And to those grasping for answers after the assassination attempt on Democratic U.S Rep Gabrielle Giffords, Obama will likely explore how “we can come together as a stronger nation” in the aftermath of the tragedy, as he put it earlier this week. What the speech is not likely to be: An examination of divisive partisan rhetoric, or whether it is connected in any way to the rampage that led to the killing of six people and the wounding of 14 others. Standing amidst the people of a grieving community, Obama is expected to focus on a memorial, not a commentary on political civility. This moment as chief consoler comes to all presidents – often many times. And this will not be Obama’s first. Among the events that people remember the most, recent history alone recalls George W. Bush with a bullhorn amid the rubble of Sept. 11, 2001; Bill Clinton’s finding new leadership after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995; and Ronald Reagan’s response to the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, when he spoke about being “pained to the core.” For Obama, the most instructive lesson may likely be one from his own presidency.