offers lots of advice to the President in the pages of Newsweek. The headline, screen-grabbed above, reads:
Can Obama Turn Tragedy Into Triumph? Saturday’s shooting spree could prove a turning point in the Obama presidency. How the White House should talk about the tragedy.
And the copy continues:
President Obama is off to a good start in his handling of what the networks are now calling “The Tragedy in Tucson.”
And so on. Alter further advises:
Just as Bill Clinton’s response to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings helped him recover from his defeat in the 1994 midterms, so this episode may help Obama change—at least in the short term--the trajectory of American politics.
Clinton did more than just speak movingly after Oklahoma City and pull the country together as griever-in-chief. He was able to use the event to discredit the militia movement and tamp down hate speech on talk radio enough that it wasn't much of a factor in his 1996 reelection. The Oklahoma City bombings were later seen by historians and Clinton-era officials as the turning point in his political comeback. Of course the viciousness of the attacks eventually resumed (especially after the Lewinsky scandal) but they weren’t as fierce again until the Obama years.
Looking back last spring on the 15th anniversary of the bombings, Clinton offered useful perspective. “The words we use really do matter,” he said. “There’s this vast echo chamber, and they go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike.” That’s the critical point in assigning indirect blame for Tucson. We can never know exactly what hate speech produces, but why risk its interaction with underlying mental illness?
Whether or not he attends the funerals for the Tucson victims, Obama’s big chance to lead will come in his State of the Union address on January 25. He can both to speak to the moment thematically and confront the substantive concerns raised by the tragedy.