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First Thoughts: What Obama might say tonight

What Obama might say tonight, per his past speeches and his predecessors’… Does he talk about civility or save it for his State of the Union?... Obama’s speech in Arizona is at 8:00 pm ET… Palin breaks her silence… Bottom line: In her video on Saturday's tragedy, she expresses sadness but doesn’t apologize for her map or her rhetoric… Contrasting Palin and Obama on civility in American politics… And House to consider resolution honoring Giffords and the other victims.

*** What Obama might say tonight: From his past speeches on tragedy and unprovoked violence, from the guidance we’ve received from the White House, and from the addresses by his predecessors, we have a pretty good idea what President Obama will probably say in tonight’s speech on Saturday’s shooting in Arizona. As he did in his 2009 address at Fort Hood, he will honor the fallen, the injured and the heroes, and will share anecdotes he's heard in his personal calls to the families of victims. “We pay tribute to 13 men and women who were not able to escape the horror of war, even in the comfort of home... So we say goodbye to those who now belong to eternity. We press ahead in pursuit of the peace that guided their service.” He also surely will condemn the violence, as he did at Ft. Hood. “It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy. But this much we do know -- no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world, and the next.”

*** Channeling Clinton? In addition, Obama might draw upon what Bill Clinton said memorializing those killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing: to ensure that good overcomes evil. “Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it,” Clinton said. “When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life. As St. Paul admonished us, let us not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And he might echo Clinton’s call in ’95 for healing. “My fellow Americans, a tree takes a long time to grow, and wounds take a long time to heal. But we must begin. Those who are lost now belong to God. Some day we will be with them. But until that happens, their legacy must be our lives.”

*** What about civility? But will Obama discuss the current state of American political discourse (before and after Saturday’s violence)? That’s the big question we have heading into tonight’s speech. If he does, he might draw upon words he uttered in his University of Michigan commencement address last spring. “These arguments we’re having over government and health care and war and taxes -- these are serious arguments. They should arouse people’s passions... But we can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism." More: “The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning –- since, after all, why should we listen to a ‘fascist,’ or a ‘socialist,’ or a ‘right-wing nut,’ or a ‘left-wing nut’?” It’s also possible that Obama saves his “civility” talk for his State of the Union address on Jan. 25. Remember, he gets two bites at this apple in two VERY big speeches.

*** The skinny on the speech: Obama will deliver his speech at 8:00 pm ET at a memorial service at the University of Arizona entitled, “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America.” Others attending the event include First Lady Michelle Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

*** Palin breaks her silence: After calls by both supporters and opponents to break her silence after the shooting in Arizona, Sarah Palin has released a nearly eight-minute-long video. Bottom line: She expresses sadness about the events on Saturday, but doesn’t apologize for her target/bullseye map or her “don’t retreat, instead reload” rhetoric. “Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims,” Palin says. “No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims' families as we express our sympathy.” Palin adds, “Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle.”

*** Contrasting Obama and Palin on civility: What's fascinating about this Palin video is how she and Obama have completely different worldviews on the issue of political discourse. Here’s Palin: “There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those ‘calm days’ when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren't designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders' genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.”

*** And here was Obama at the University of Michigan: "But we can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism… Now, we’ve seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth. But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse. And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized. Remember, they signed up for it. … The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning -- since, after all, why should we listen to a ‘fascist,’ or a ‘socialist,’ or a ‘right-wing nut,’ or a left-wing nut’?"

*** Palin's timing: By releasing this video a full 15 hours before tonight's memorial service -- and thanks to the relatively slow day in the political world before tonight -- her video will get plenty of attention. And whether she meant to or not, there will likely be a stark contrast drawn between her words and what the president says tonight. And that leads us to a few questions for folks to ponder: Should she have released this via Web video? Why not do this via interview? Should she have released this video BEFORE today's memorial service or waited until tomorrow? Is it fair to use this video to judge her ability to be presidential at a time of crisis or national tragedy? If so, was this a presidential-caliber speech? There's been a lot of finger-pointing by the very loud base voices on both sides of the political spectrum, most of it playing out on the internet/Twitter/prime-time cable. This video is only going to serve to feed that beast.

*** Tick-tock on today’s House resolution: In yet another example of how American politics can change in the blink of an eye, today was supposed to be the day that the House voted to repeal the health-care law. Instead, it’s taking up a resolution honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D) and the other victims in Saturday’s shooting, NBC’s Luke Russert and Shawna Thomas report. The House convenes at 10:00 am ET, and Speaker Boehner will call up the resolution 10 minutes later. Then Boehner -- followed by House Minority Leader Pelosi, House Majority Leader Cantor, and House Minority Whip Hoyer -- will speak, and then so will rank-and-file members. Between 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm, there will be a recess for a bipartisan prayer service. And after that, members will come back to the House floor to finish remarks. Once everyone speaks (who wants to), the House will vote on the resolution.

*** Programming note: “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” tonight will interview veteran journalist Bob Woodruff to share his experience of suffering an injury to the brain. On Thursday, O’Donnell will interview Tom DeLay, the former GOP congressional leader who was just sentenced to three years in prison.

Countdown to the RNC chair election: 2 days
Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 41 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 300 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 390 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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