President Barack Obama’s speech in Tucson was undeniably a high moment of his presidency. But you can judge that for yourself. (As the father of a nine-year-old daughter, I could not imagine delivering such an address—and keeping it together.) The initial reviews—even among pundits on the right—appeared overwhelmingly positive, proving that most of us can live in a shared reality. But here’s what to look for in the coming days: how the die-hard Obama-haters will behave. Since the campaign, this gang has argued one or more of these variants: Obama is anti-America, Obama wants to wreck the economy, Obama wants to weaken America, Obama hates liberty and freedom, Obama is a socialist, Obama is a communist, Obama is not truly (and literally) an American, Obama is a secret Muslim. After this speech, will they be able to make such claims? (Rush Limbaugh, I am indeed talking about you.)
During the 2008 campaign, Obama did appeal to those voters who yearned for a leader who could rise above the partisan fray. The process of governing—and GOP obstructionism—made it tough for him to keep that promise. But this speech offered him an opportunity to renew that connection with voters of this particular stripe. The leader on the stage in Tucson was not a man who fits the Rushian or Beckian caricature. So what are Rush, Glenn, and the others going to do? (And by the end of Obama’s speech, Sarah Palin’s silly Facebook video looked even more small-minded and self-centered.) The Obama Hate Machine better pray that Obama doesn’t get other chances to address the nation in this manner. The White House, after all, cannot manufacture such opportunities. They come precisely because of events that are beyond our control. Yet it is in these moments that presidents can define themselves—especially for those voters who do not pay attention to the daily tussles of politics and policy. Obama did that well on Wednesday night, and the Obama haters must hate that.