Last weekend I saw the movie The King's Speech and found it to be both provocative and moving. It is about King George VI of England who took over the crown when his brother, Edward, abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced woman from the United States. We Americans have romanticized this decision by King Edward VIII, but according to this film, the British have another view of it.
This movie has portrayed Edward as a swinger, playboy type, unready for the responsibilities of being King. George is more mature than his brother, but he has one main problem: a speech defect of stuttering that becomes painfully obvious when faced with any task of public speaking.
The inspiring part of the story is that he finds an unconventional speech therapist who is able to help him overcome this impediment. In the end, he gives a stirring radio address declaring England's entry into war against Hitler during World War II.
Watching this film, I couldn't help but be reminded of President Obama. Everyone, even his critics, acknowledge the president has a gift for oratory. This has served him well during his campaign for the presidency. But what was demonstrated by his speech at the Tucson, AZ, Memorial Service last week, was the power and influence a leader can have during times of crisis.
I also thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his fireside chats and 1933 Inauguration statement that soothed and comforted a nation: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."; John F. Kennedy and his call to service in his 1961 Inaugural address: "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."; Ronald Reagan offering solace to a mourning nation after the 1986 Challenger explosion: "We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of earth' to 'touch the face of God'."; Bill Clinton leading the country towards healing after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995: "In the face of death, let us honor life."; and George W. Bush rallying a shocked nation with a bullhorn after the events of 9/11/01: "I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people -- and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!"
This was one of those transcendent moments for President Obama. Not only were Americans feeling sadness and grief for the victims of the tragedy, they were being torn apart by the angry vitriol and rhetoric being displayed by both ends of the political spectrum.
I can say personally I have never been more emotionally touched by a speech in my life. My dad and I watched it together and we were both in tears by the end. What the president did was give us all a gift by being the "Healer in Chief". He challenged us to not allow this event to be an excuse to turn against one another. He basically asked us to appeal to our "higher angels":
"But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. 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 our hopes and dreams are bound together."
By eulogizing each of those that had died, he united us in our grief. By pointing out the innocence of the youngest victim, nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green who was born on 9/11/01, he called on us to be a better, more civil, and more empathetic nation:
"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.....
.....If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit."
By sharing that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes that afternoon, he presented us with several silver linings of this tragedy: her miraculous recovery as well as the other wounded thirteen victims that have survived the shootings. I believe Gabby Giffords will one day walk and talk again and be an inspiration to the nation as a symbol of courage, hope, and unity.
President Obama also praised the heroes -- particularly Daniel Hernandez, who quickly came to the aid of Representative Giffords and is credited with saving her life, and Patricia Maisch, who jumped on the shooter and grabbed his ammo as he was reloading his gun:
"These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned - as it was on Saturday morning."
This speech was I believe a defining moment in Obama's presidency. Even his critics praised it and spoke of its eloquence.
Essentially what he did was unite us (at least for one evening), inspire us, mourn with us, challenge us, and begin our healing process.
Yes, the importance of speech-making for a leader can never be underestimated, be it a king or a president or a prime minister or a civil rights leader. And we are blessed to have one of the greatest orators of this century. God save the King, and God Bless the President of the United States of America.