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Sreedhar Pillai Headshot

Was the Newtown Speech the Most Difficult to Deliver for Obama?

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One day, when Barack Obama will no more be the president of the United States, someone will venture to make a movie on his life. It will be almost impossible to find an actor willing to enact the president's role because the performance of the future actor will be measured against that of the president himself, who in real life was forced to live through the toughest of theatrical moments, like when he addressed the Newtown school gathering after the massacre.

No actor, however capable, can bring out the agony of the president, who has to suppress his internal turmoil and present a different face to the nation for the sake of the position he is holding. No director can pull off visualization of a complex surge of emotions of a whole nation behind a tragic event like the one that happened in Newtown.

There are moments when a president has to deliver inspiring speeches to convey his vision or unify the country against adversity. Then there are occasions no one wishes to face in life, when the president is expected to address the nation, to say something, to console, assure and somehow alleviate the collective burden on the nation's psyche. The Newtown speech in the aftermath of the massacre of 20 innocent children and six of their teachers was one such testing moment for President Obama.

Though several tragedies have occurred during his presidency where he had to deliver consoling and supporting messages to the nation, the Newtown tragedy, coming right after a very divisive election must have been very different and difficult for the president.

It is hard to understand, why Barack Obama is seen as the first "black" president by many Americans and even by leading media though he was born to a white Caucasian lady. Though for the rest of the world this is a non-issue, it is the perception. However, this must have been the most difficult aspect for President Obama, who had to face and address a town whose population, and the bereaved they came to mourn, are almost entirely white.

No one can deny that such was the ferocity and divisiveness of the politics which only just ended in his re-election, which many in the nation still do not accept or at least have great difficulty to reconcile. No one can deny that the second amendment, which the president could do little about and something which his audience hold sacred had to do with the tragedy.

That, President Obama, as a very loving parent of two children, couldn't hold his tears while announcing the tragedy that occurred at Newtown as a national tragedy, didn't somehow alleviate his dilemma. Where trust was at best fragile, it must have been very difficult to find the right words to express and communicate something meaningful both to the community and to the nation at large.

The Newtown tragedy has occurred in the Christmas season, when everyone has to rejoice and not bereave, has rendered the event poignant beyond imagination. Mundane calls of presidential duties in the face of the Fiscal Cliff which he has very little time to sort out before the nation fall off it and the nomination of his future secretary of state must have been adding immense pressure to his working life. Yet the president was duty-bound to come to the bereaved, and address and console as the commander in chief.

President Obama did come to Newtown, and delivered the most difficult speech of his presidency with amazing grace. With measured words delivered in a way only Barack Obama, the great communicator, can do he somehow spoke, conveying the consolation and support of the nation he took to Newtown and asking for the nation's support and resolve to enable him for meaningful and effective action.

Without referring to the Second Amendment or NRA, he brought home the need for controlling the ownership and accessibility of dangerous weapons. Without admonishing, he brought home the need for better parenting and teaching and loving children. In as few words as possible he reminded Americans about family values they all need to return to.

You handled this horrific situation with such honest sympathy and grace. You have done our nation (and yourself) proud during one of our darkest moments. I am proud to call you my president.

For astute students of communication, President Obama's skills in oratory will be always be a benchmark. His speeches will be heard, watched analyzed and imitated for decades and centuries to come. But for true meaning and sense of his speeches, future learners will have to delve deep in to the contextual history and events as well.