After some rumination, I find I am not alone in being uneasy and troubled at the spectacle that the Tuscon Memorial for the victims of the horrific attack last week. Witnessing, attending and participating in many Memorial Services, both small and large, I was astounded at the lack of sensitivity in the planning and execution of this service. While several speakers maintained a solemn and decorous tone, there was an odd 'manufactured vibe' in much of the proceedings.
The uneasy tenor of the event was set at the very beginning of the rally, when Dr. Carlos Gonzales, a Native American Man of Mexican descent, (which he oddly trumpeted and expounded upon DURING his invocation!) gave a long and rambling 'Opening Prayer', which was more of a political and social statement than a prayer or invocation, and failed to even mention 'God'- except in vague and oddly Paganistic 'Creator' references. I am familiar with Native American culture and ceremony, and while Dr. Gonzales used some Native American imagery and ritual in his invocation, it rapidly degenerated into a hodge-podge of new-age 'Earth Worship', secular humanist philosophy, and (most oddly) 'shout outs' to his Son in Afghanistan and a personal genealogy lesson on his family! Turns out, he's not even a Native American religious figure, which he stated DURING the invocation, but a Doctor and Professor at the University where the Rally/Memorial was held! Apparently it was more important to show 'diversity' and push an agenda, as well as to avoid the religious beliefs of the victims than to actually memorialize those who had fallen. Don't most Memorials include at least a token representative of the deceased's faith, since the whole point is to celebrate their life and give spiritual comfort to their loved ones?
As to the rest of the 'memorial', it played out with a weird 'campaign rally' atmosphere, with cheering and hooting and applause, rather than as a more appropriate solemn memorial of remembrance and healing. Even more uncomfortable was watching victims' family members literally squirming in their seats as this spectacle continued, clearly uncomfortable with both the atmosphere and content of what devolved into a political rally. Having been to memorials and wakes on many occasions, I am comfortable with this type of remembrance in a personal, private setting- not in a Public Mass Rally-type situation. I considered the Tuscon rally overall to be rather disrespectful of the memory of those who had fallen.
President Obama delivered a well-crafted speech, with all the right statements, but in an oddly detached and emotionless way. He seemed most emotional when playing to the crowd's cheering and fawning. In the end, the rally seemed to be more about the President than the victims he purportedly was memorializing.
Finally, some questions need to be asked. Why were there no members of the victim's faith included at the memorial? Why were there elements in the crowd whose behavior was more fitting of a college pep rally or political gathering? Why were there tee-shirts printed up just two days after the massacre, and distributed to the crowd like 'goodies' given to campaign rally attendees. Why did those shirts 'just happen' to resemble Obama Campaign symbolism, with a tag line 'Together We Thrive' taken straight from campaign literature from the President's '08 Campaign? Why was a 'slogan' and 'promotional material' even needed- let alone deemed appropriate for this type of event?
As Rahm Emanuel once paraphrased Saul Alinsky, 'Never let a crisis go to waste.' It seems like the Obama/DNC machine was ready to go and quick out of the blocks on this crisis. Maybe a little too quick, as most rational-thinking Americans can recognize a crass politicization of what should have been a somber and non-partisan memorial. You have to give the Obama/DNC Machine credit for being slick, though. Anyone criticizing their blatant politicization of this event is all-too-easily smeared with the 'insensitive to the victims' attack, along with the new DNC Mantra of 'tone down the rhetoric'. Couching political advocacy within a Memorial service for victims of a public tragedy is distasteful at best, opportunistic in the politically sleazy sense, and most definitely not without much precedent in history.