Obama Urges Civility to Honor Christina Taylor Green

Christina Green

A child was among the dead. And in her memory and honor, President Obama urged Americans to commit to forging a country that would be forever worthy of the "gentle, happy spirit" of 9-year old Christina Taylor Green.

Addressing an overflow audience of 14,000 in an arena on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson, the president decried those in his own party who were quick to try to blame the shooting incident on the incendiary rhetoric and campaign materials of conservative commentators and Republican political figures.

"What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other," he said. "That we cannot do."

The crowd leapt to its feet with applause and cheers. "That we cannot do," repeated Mr. Obama.

Special Section: Tragedy in Tucson

"It's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," he said.

The event in Tucson was an odd mix of memorial service and pep rally. There were repeated bursts of cheers and standing ovations from the audience, dominated by university students.

When Mr. Obama took the lectern, the audience shouted as if it were a campaign rally. He tried to silence them with somber words. At times, their enthusiasm shifted his delivery into a campaign-style cadence, not the soft-spoken funereal tones usually heard at such events.

Most of the president's speech focused on the six individuals slain by the gunman in a supermarket parking on Saturday morning. He offered thumbnail descriptions of each of their lives, cruelly brought to an end in a hail of gunfire.

He spoke with respect and admiration of the heroes who at risk to their own safety, rushed to the aid of the wounded or tried to subdue the shooter and prevent him from re-loading his weapon.

President Obama speaks at "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America," Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011.
AP Photo

But he spoke out against the political rhetoric heard over in the five days since the shooting: "we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath."

He said it was understandable to try to fathom what made a man fire at a member of Congress and other innocent people. "It is part of our nature to demand explanations," he conceded.

Obama: Rep. Giffords "Opened Her Eyes" Today
Text of Obama Speech
Giffords' Friends in Room When She Opened Eyes

But he made clear his view that this is not the time or the event on which to level political charges

"Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together."

Again he reminded the nation that a child had died.

"In Christina, we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic. So deserving of our love. And so deserving of our good example."

The reflection and debate over Saturday's tragedy, he said, should be "worthy of those we lost."

He spoke of the very worst aspects of partisan politics: "Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle."

Mr. Obama disputed those who charge that a lack of civility motivated to the gunman's actions.

And he said "only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation" in a way that would make those who lost their lives proud. Especially, 9-year old Christina.

Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.

  • Mark Knoller On Twitter»

    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.