I believe the remarks that President Obama delivered in Tucson, a fraction of which I’ve copied below, may prove as memorable as Lincoln’s remarks at Gettysburg. They come at a pivotal time, when the mental health of one individual has called into focus the national mental miasma. Has the United States become unbalanced? Or rather, has polarized rhetoric left a gaping hole in the center of who we are as a people? The fulcrum we seek — no, need — may well be epitomized by the sharply felt absence of Christina Taylor Green. But in her physical absence, what nine-year-old Christina symbolizes is a powerful spiritual presence. She represents those virgin qualities that each of us longs for at the core of our being, the state of being unbroken, un-fragmented, un-invaded, un-captured, focused, whole and intact.
We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
The President might well have added one more Bible quotation to the ones he so aptly chose to include in his entire speech. Isaiah prophesied an end to polarization when he saw the wolf dwelling with the lamb, and the leopard lying down with the kid. Whether one takes the verse literally or metaphorically, the determining factor is clear: “a little child shall lead them.” Children, simply by the force of being what they are, lead us out of and away from what would destroy us. Perhaps our collective memory of this particular child will sharpen our resolve to simply be better.