LET PEOPLE MOURN AS THEY WILL…. Last night, Adam Serwer noted that President Obama’s speech at the memorial service in Tucson was so strong, we should expect some on the right to “pivot to attacking the crowd.”
Alas, that’s pretty much what happened. Praise for the president’s remarks appear to be nearly universal — even Republican pundits were complimentary — but there have been quite a few complaints about the reactions from those who attended the event.
President Barack Obama probably never imagined he would fill a college gymnasium like this.
But at the University of Arizona’s McKale Center Wednesday night, Obama faced a mourning community looking for consolation, but perhaps more importantly, a chance to celebrate its strength. It was a night for sadness, to be sure, but there was also a raucous, nervous energy in the crowd that found release several times in loud, sustained and boisterous cheering.
If it seemed jarring to people watching on TV — the event was never billed specifically as a memorial event but rather “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America” — to people inside the hall, it somehow made sense. It was a community unsure how to express itself finding something, finally, to celebrate, even in sadness.
If I’m being entirely honest, I’ll concede that I initially found the crowd reaction odd, too. But it quickly occurred to me that people grieve in very different ways, and there’s nothing wrong in the slightest about a community coming together, leaning on one another, and celebrating a common spirit.
Politico asked Tucson’s Republican mayor, Bob Walkup, if the mood was appropriate. He didn’t hesitate: “Oh yes. Yes! If there was one thing that was appropriate, it was cheering. I’ve been in the hospital, and the people that are healing, they want to hear people cheer.”
I guess some folks have to find something to criticize, but I’d remind critics that even small, private memorial services are not uniformly somber. Some speakers tell funny stories, and the laughter offers an emotional release. Sometimes there’s uplifting music, and people sing. There’s nothing disrespectful or inappropriate about any of this.
There have already been some comparisons to the Wellstone service in 2002 — a service I think has been unfairly maligned — but last night was very different. The Wellstone event was vastly more political, and was dominated by Democratic loyalists. Last night in Tucson was devoid of politics altogether.
I can only hope the talk today is about the uplifting nature of the event itself, not whether attendees were wrong to clap.
Let people mourn as they will.