In his superb speech in Tucson, Ariz., Wednesday evening, Barack Obama did great service to the nation. He put to rest the libel that political incivility is responsible for the Tucson shootings. He did so with three words that he added to the written text: "It did not."
And he lifted the spirits not only of the inappropriately boisterous audience in the McKale Center, but of people across America, when he reported, after paying moving tribute to those who died, that "Gabby opened her eyes for the first time."
For even as we mourn those lost, we take comfort in knowing that the target of the attack has survived and that she seems to be recovering rapidly, even miraculously.
It is important for national morale that we foil the purposes of the mad and evil persons who seek to assassinate our public officials. This is something that was recognized almost 30 years ago, when Ronald Reagan was struck by a bullet.
On the Senate floor, when notified that Reagan was still alive, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: "I was glad to hear how well the president is recovering, but there's something larger at stake. I do not know that in our time we have seen such a display. It makes us proud of our president."
For Moynihan, and for all Americans of a certain age in 1981, the memory and national trauma of John F. Kennedy's assassination was still vivid.
The American narrative up to that point was one in which the leaders in our great and bloody struggles, visibly aging as they bore the burdens of war, died at the moment of victory. Abraham Lincoln, his haggard visage familiar from the photographs of Mathew Brady, struck down by an assassin. Franklin Roosevelt, his health shattered and vigor diminished, felled by a sudden cerebral hemorrhage.
They sacrificed all so that government of the people, by the people and for the people should prevail and advance.
Kennedy's death, in contrast, came to a man seemingly still youthful (his health problems were not widely known) and not at a moment of great triumph after long adversity. It cast doubt on the idea that we were a singularly blessed nation, with a mission to advance freedom and liberty.
Kennedy's admirers painted him as the victim of a pathologically violent society, of a culture of right-wing hatred in Dallas, though his assassin was a communist sympathizer. As James Piereson has argued in his brilliant book "Camelot & the Cultural Revolution," this view caused many Americans to think less of their society, with negative repercussions that lasted for decades.