July 23, 2012

Obama in Aurora

Obama Aurora

If there are more descriptive and newsworthy photos of Obama’s condolence visit to Colorado today, I found this the most characteristic. As AP details:

In dramatic detail, Obama offered a glimpse inside the horror that took place in the Denver-area movie theater early Friday, relaying a story he said spoke to the courage of young Americans. With two fingers pressed to his own neck, Obama recalled how one woman saved the life of a friend who had been shot by keeping pressure on a vein that had “started spurting blood” and later helping carry her to safety.

(If you read the transcript of Obama’s speech today, you understand the rest of the picture also, how that same friend used her other hand to dial 911 on her cell.)

Not to jade the President’s role of comforter in a tragedy like this, but not to overlook the campaign resonance either, Obama’s gestures today dealt exclusively with the heart and the personal story as opposed to any policy issue or teachable moment. As Obama summed up after his encounter with the survivors:

“… it reminds you that even in the darkest of days, life continues, and people are strong and people bounce back and people are resilient.”

What makes the gesture more vivid is that it also symbolizes why America elected Obama four years ago. Hobbled by two wars, the recession and, most of all, the financial system in complete free fall, America turned to Obama to stop the bleeding. To the extent he has stabilized the patient, it’s like an emblem of his first term.

Maybe the left hand — beyond the cell phone — could be seen to have further symbolism also as it’s a gesture well familiar to Obama. Beyond “call me,” it’s also known as the “shaka” sign. It’s most familiar in Hawaii and communicates friendship, goodwill and common understanding. (One of its most publicized usages came when Obama threw the shaka sign to Honolulu’s Punahou School marching band during his Inauguration Parade.)

Obama is generally not so easy to read. He has a gift, though — and time of need and also campaign season tends to bring it out — in making people sense hope. As a politician approaching the home stretch of his last campaign, though, today’s visit felt like a mixed blessing (or too much shaka), bypassing lessons learned for pure symbolism.

(photo: Larry Downing/Reuters caption: U.S. President Barack Obama demonstrates a story of survival by placing his fingers over an artery and using a cell phone while speaking at the University of Colorado Hospital after he met with families bereaved after a gunman went on a shooting rampage at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado July 22, 2012. Obama headed to Aurora, Colorado, on Sunday to meet families grieving their losses Friday’s mass shooting that has stunned the nation and rekindled debate about guns and violence in America.)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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