A more perfect union (5×8 – 1/13/11)


This speech, to my ears, remains the greatest speech ever given, at least at a memorial service. It still resonates today.

President Reagan used the memorial service of the Challenger astronauts in 1986 to rally a nation in a time of tragedy. President Obama tried to do the same thing last night at the memorial service for victims of the Gabrille Giffords assasination attempt in Tucson. Last night, however, the TV networks stuck with their sitcom programming when the service started.

What was more important than a shared national moment for broadcast stations whose licenses say “to serve in the public interest”? On NBC: Minute to win it. On CBS: Live to Dance. On ABC: In the Middle. And on Fox, Human Target was scheduled, but was pre-empted, for a sitcom.

Networks joined later, in time to hear the president, but they missed the essence of a unifying service — the blessing from a Native American, the story of some of the victims etc. The minute the president was done, the networks returned to their nightly pablum, denying viewers the rest of a service intended to unite the nation.

Still, when all the networks were giving us one choice of programming, we got the rare shared moment that are few and far between now.Since they usually come in times of nationally tragedy, perhaps that’s just as well. But when it came, President Obama, like President Reagan before him, did exactly what he needed to do. Set aside the next 33 minutes.

Leadership is quite often merely a matter of rising to an occasion (Recommended reading: BBC on how the tragedy is being handled on both sides of the aisle) . So it was unfortunate in the extreme that new Speaker of the House John Boehner did not understand the power that his presence at the event could have had. He went to a fundraiser in Washington instead. Also missing was Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Let’s analyze the speech. Wait, let’s not:


I rate Reagan’s speech (above) as the second best speech after a national tragedy. Number one is Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor. Number three is Teddy Kennedy’s eulogy for his brother, Robert. What’s yours? The comments section is open. Speak to me.

Post-script: Two very fascinating profiles of survivors of last Saturday’s shooting, including one who dealt with the trauma by writing down the Declaration of Independence:


We had to get to this point eventually. Was Tucson “terrorism?” “Yes,” says an MPR commentator.

An American outcast who hated every American around him and goes on a killing spree is just a disturbed person. He is mental, deprived of love and care. Experts on TV go deep into his mind to find out the real motive. When it comes to violence committed by foreigners, nobody is willing to go as deep. Violence committed by Muslim Arabs is automatically seen as politically motivated and quickly labeled an act of terrorism, case closed.


We didn’t know where the smart money was last night on which Jon Stewart would show up on The Daily Show to interview former governor Tim Pawlenty. Would it be the one who fell in love with John McCain two years before the presidential election of 2008? Or would it be the one who studies up — and reads a book (although it’s clear he didn’t read Pawlenty’s) — to pull out the absurd claims that don’t add up?

Neither. It was the Jon Stewart who fumbles his way through the point of the question, takes too long to ask it, and ends up being the focus of the interview. It was a yawner.

Here’s the extended interview:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Tim Pawlenty Extended Interview
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This just handed me: Vadnais Heights is not on the shore of Lake Superior. A beauty contest winner for Miss North Shore has had to give up her crown because she’s not from the North Shore, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

It may be a glimpse into the dog-eat-dog world of beauty pageants. Someone had to have blown the whistle on the fine print.


When floodwaters struck a town near Brisbane, the Rice family car was swamped. A rescue worker, tied to a rope, grabbed a 13-year-old boy first. But the lad said, “save my (10-year-old) brother first.” The rescuer did, and seconds later the older brother (and his mother) were swept away. “He won’t go down with any fanfare or anything like that – I don’t think anyone will even wear a black armband for him – but he’s just the champion of all champions, a family hero,” his father said.

Meanwhile, Col. Bill Bower has died. He was the last surviving member of Doolittle’s Raiders.


Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty has been making the rounds of the national talk shows, promoting his book and preparing for a possible White House run. If Tim Pawlenty runs for president, can he win?


Midmorning (9-11 a.m.) – First hour: Several of Jared Loughner’s classmates and instructors at Pima Community College noticed his erratic behavior, had him removed from school, and notified his parents. Why was no one able to get him into treatment? A leading psychologist says our fear and misunderstanding of mental illness prevents us from stepping in before tragedies occur

Second hour: In 2010, South Africa alone had over 300 confirmed poaching cases, a huge increase from 2009. Why the increase and what can be done to preserve rhinos and other endangered species from poaching?

Midday (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.) – First hour: St. John’s history professor Nick Hayes joins Midday from St. Petersburg, Russia to talk about Russia’s economy, society and politics.

Second hour: Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty at the National Press Club.

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: Author Peter Bergen, who argues al Qaida’s biggest threat isn’t Western force, it’s mainstream Islam.

Second hour: Navigating the unemployment bureaucracy.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – –Retailers have long complained banks set unfair rules and exorbitant fees for merchants taking debit and credit cards. But recent and pending rule changes shift power from the banks to retailers. That may mean big changes in the shopping experience, and the value of reward cards, MPR’s Martin Moylan says.

  • Chris

    I can’t see the GOP nominating anyone who can’t win his or her home state, particularly when that state is Minnesota, ostensibly a “swing” state. And I can’t see Pawlenty cracking 50% support in MN as long as he’s running for the GOP nomination, which will do nothing but highlight everything Pawlenty’s detractors dislike about him.

  • Heather

    John Stewart on 9/11.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Please say that you’re joking. Or trying to bait liberals into responding. Your favorite memorial speech was delivered by St. Ronnie Raygun? The senile b-actor that rarely uttered a word that wasn’t written down for him?

    If you liked that one, how about his closing statements in the final debate against Mondale, where the moderator tried to stop him several times because he began to ramble on with non sequiturs about Ufos? ( It must have been nap time). That speech had something about aviation in it too!

    And wasn’t it unfortunate that when The Great Communicator went to the SS cemetery in Bitburg, he didn’t get a chance to say something moving about the Luftwaffe?

    No, I’m not suggesting that you have any nazi sympathies. You’re a fine, humane writer.

    What I AM suggesting is that your love of flying perhaps overly influenced your otherwise intelligent opinions on this one.

    That said, opinions are like rectums. Everybody has one. They’re just influenced by different things.

    And clearly I, too, can be, er, have a big opinion when so moved. 🙂

  • Bob Collins

    You didn’t mention, Jim, whether you watched the speech. Did you. I mean at the time.

    If you didn’t watch it at the time, the anti-Reagan rhetoric doesn’t appeal to me. You had to understand he national mood in the wake of the type of national tragedy we’d never experienced before.

    Sometimes, you have to put down the partisan glasses, and assess a moment for what it is: a moment.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Thanks for the response. I don’t recall whether I saw Reagan’s speech at the time of the tragedy. I do recall being moved to tears by the disaster though.

    If I did see the speech, I can pretty much guarantee that I saw it through the partisan lenses of being angry with the mendacious sob for propagating an illegal war that was killing innocent children in Nicaragua.

    You stress the importance of the moment. Obama’s speech, declared by most professional and amateur analysts as being one for the ages, was about as in the moment as you can get. Gosh, it seems like yesterday.

    In comparison, 1986 was quite a few moments ago. Thanks to the benefits of technology, you can view it and relive the experience “in the moment” over and over again.

    But we also have the benefit of hindsight, and can view a speech in the context of who gave it.

    Is it appropriate to judge a speech without taking into account who delivered it?

    If so, Roosevelt was on of four great speech givers during the Second World War.

    But if there is a hell, two of his competitors are wowing toastmasters meetings there. And I wouldn’t be surprised if St. Ronnie stops in from time to time to read some lines between naps. 🙂

  • Bob Collins

    You probably don’t follow me on twitter but this was a running theme with me last night. The importance of a “shared moment” in times of national tragedy.

    I’m not going to engage in reliving past battles about Ronald Reagan. I’m merely pointing out that in a shared moment, Reagan delivered. The fact that he delivered for people who may have been vehemently opposed to him, is significant.

    I saw the same reaction among people opposed to Barack Obama last night (I’m talking about real people, not the pundits who cash their checks as part of a role to stir things up)

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Thanks for the further clarification. Point taken.

  • Jamie

    Reagan did not move me in that speech, nor at any other time. He was “the great communicator” for some people, but not for me or any of my friends at the time. He was so reviled by so many of us thinking, caring, knowing Americans (and we knew that none of his words were really HIS anyway), that we couldn’t feel anything good when he spoke. We were totally in that moment; the moment didn’t NEED Ronald Reagan.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Jamie – Well said. Thanks for concisely articulating some of my points better than I did.