Analysis Of The President's Remarks In Arizona

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Host Michele Norris speaks to NPR's Mara Liasson and Richard Gonzales about the memorial service tonight in Arizona.


I'm joined here in the studio by Mara Liasson, our national political correspondent.

Mara, the president is still speaking at the podium, but based on what you've heard so far, what is most striking to you?

MARA LIASSON: Well, I think what's most striking is how he fulfilled the task that he felt he had, which is how to bring people together, how to rise above the partisan political debate that already started within minutes of this tragedy. And I think he did it.

I mean, one of the things that the White House has been looking forward to is occasions where he can recapture the role that he played during the campaign where he was seen as an antidote to polarized public discourse, somebody who could bridge divides. And he talked about that tonight. He didn't really get into the politics of this, but he talked about the national conversation about gun safety, about different things.

He said having this debate is important, but at a time when our discourse has become so polarized it's important not to lay blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do. He talked about talking in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. That certainly is the way that he's tried to speak tonight.

NORRIS: The folks at the White House are saying that a lot was riding on this, that the president had to strike just the right tone. He stopped short of scolding at people, at really wagging the finger. But he did call for sort of a lifting up of political discourse.

LIASSON: Yes. He said let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, to remind ourselves that all our hopes and dreams are bound together. This is the role that he has, I think, always wanted to play. Now, he became a very polarizing figure, as most ambitious presidents do, but this was an opportunity that he could take to rise above that.

NORRIS: And the president is just walking off the stage right now, and we'll end it there. More soon from Mara Liasson and other who will be joining us.

Mara, thanks so much.

LIASSON: Thank you, Michele.

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