Critics Assail Cheering and T-Shirts at Obama Tucson Speech

President Barack Obama speaks at the Tucson memorial service, Jan. 12, 2011. CBS

There has been relatively little criticism of the context of President Obama's speech last night calling for civility in the wake of the Tucson tragedy- in fact, conservative blogger Ed Morrissey called it perhaps "the finest moment of his presidency." But some are pointing to both the response of his audience and the fact that t-shirts were handed out to cast the memorial as an inappropriately political event. 

T-shirts reading "Together We Thrive: Tucson & America" were handed out to attendees at the event, prompting conservative pundit Michelle Malkin to complain: "Isn't the churning of the instant messaging machine a bit, well, unseemly? Can't the Democrat political stage managers give it a break just once?"

Pointing to the fact that the slogan appeared on various items at the event, Malkin wrote, "Yes, the Tucson massacre is being branded." She later wrote that she had been informed that the University Of Arizona had been responsible for the t-shirts and other items, but added: "Given the Obama White House's meticulous attention to stage prop details, however, I would say the odds of involvement by Axelrod/Plouffe & Co. are high."

Added Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit, sarcastically: "Every memorial needs a special T-shirt. Doesn't it?"

Also coming in for criticism was the boisterous crowd at the event, which included 14,000 in the arena and another 10,000 in the overflow room, many of them college students. While the president was cheered wildly, some in attendance booed Arizona Republican governor Jan Brewer, prompting complaints that the event was more partisan pep rally than solemn remembrance.

In the New York Post, John Podhoretz wrote that "the president's stunning speech was marred by the feeling of the evening that surrounded it and the appalling behavior of the crowd in Tucson listening to it."

"It was as though no one in the arena but the immediate mourners and sufferers had the least notion of displaying respectful solemnity in the face of breathtaking loss and terrifying evil," he added. "... The tone of the event came to resemble a pep rally, no matter the monstrous fact of the six dead and the many injured."

President Barack Obama speaks at the Tucson memorial service, Jan. 12, 2011.
CBS

"Surrounding a clearly stricken President Obama were the devastated survivors, mourning family members, and heart-broken friends of the lost or wounded," added Melissa Clouthier. "They stoically sat in the sea of frivolity with their pain written on their faces. The contrast was jarring to watch. It felt wildly inappropriate. It was rather embarrassing in a skin-crawling, get-me-out-of-here way."

Conservative pundit Tammy Bruce called the event "Massacre Rally Theatre" that was "a complete abomination." The headline at Fox Nation was: "Disrespectful? Memorial Sounded Like Campaign Rally in Tucson"

National Review's Rich Lowry, who thought the speech was "magnificent," nonetheless wrote, "The pep-rally atmosphere was inappropriate and disconcerting."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked in his briefing Tuesday about "the pep rally aspect and tone of the event."

He responded that "part of the grieving process is celebrating the lives of those that were lost, and celebrating the miracles of those that survived."

"I read the speech several times, and thought that there wouldn't be a lot of applause, if any. I think many of us thought that," he continued. "But I think there was a celebration, again, of the lives of those that have impacted, not just at that grocery store, but throughout the country. And I think that if that is part of the healing process, then that's a good thing."

Gibbs was also asked why the speech was delivered in an arena instead of a smaller venue or church.

"I would point you to the university on that," he said. "And I think it's important to understand, we were invited to and accepted quite happily the invitation of the university. I think having that many people there and being able to include people from the community was again was and is an important part of that healing process."

Tucson Republican Mayor Bob Walkup told Politico that the mood of the rally was appropriate.

"If there was one thing that was appropriate, it was cheering," he said. "I've been in the hospital, and the people that are healing, they want to hear people cheer."

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