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Obama's big speech

January 13, 2011 1:46:48 PM PST
I don't usually scream at my TV set, but when I heard some cable commentators last night talk about the "uncomfortable" feeling at the University of Arizona when thousands applauded and cheered President Obama during his speech, I came this-close to screaming.

This was not, as was suggested, a pep rally billed as a memorial service. This was a memorial attended by people who were stunned and still in shock. And their applause from my perch had less to do with pep, and everything to do with an outpouring of raw emotion, a purely collective and mass experience, that oozed from deep inside.

Their clapping hands ? a metaphor for holding hands ? 26,000 pairs. And the cheers were more like tears, celebrating the lives that were snuffed out, and the lives that were altered forever, theirs included.

Perhaps Mr. Obama didn't expect all that; certainly the advance copy of his speech didn't read like he'd be interrupted so many times by applause. He seemed to go with the flow of the crowd, and elevate his pitch once he realized the crowd was so energized. But his inspiring words were nonetheless somber, and his musings about how we got to this point as a country should serve as a warning to us all.

It was, from my humble perch, perhaps his best speech as President, he certainly made his points better than he did in his speech escalating the war in Afghanistan. And this was as Presidential as his speech about race during the 2008 campaign. He soared above the trite and political, and sounded like a man who heads a nation.

Much talk about other Presidents' moments in the spotlight during a national tragedy: Pres. Reagan after the Challenger exploded; Pres. Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing; and Pres. Bush at Ground Zero with a bullhorn after Sept. 11. Politics took a back seat, and even people who didn't particularly like the President at the time, could be rallied by his words. I think ? I hope ? the same applies to President number 44.

Meanwhile, Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, whom the President visited before his speech, continues to make remarkable progress today. Doctors say she's now opening her eye for up to 15 minutes at a time, remarkable is what they call it.

Tonight at 11, we'll have the latest on her condition, and the case against the accused shooter, Jared Loughner.

Also at 11, authorities in Rockland County as well as federal agents are touting a series of drug busts, with 26 people arrested in a marijuana ring. What they're leaving out are details about one part of the raids, early this morning that targeted the wrong house, and rousted from bed the wrong family. That, at least, is what one resident is claiming ? and he says agents pointed a machine gun at his 13-year-old daughter, and threatened to shoot the family poodle.

Jeff Pegues is looking into the story for us tonight.

And Lucy Yang tonight reports on a new procedure to eliminate so-called "spider veins" ? with a shot. Just like that!

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Jeff Smith (in for Lee Goldberg) with his AccuWeather forecast, and Rob Powers with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.

BILL RITTER

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