Barack Obama found his voice Wednesday night, the one the country fell in love with in ’08. Gone was the stiff, sober professor, and here was the president we’ve been yearning for, a man who understands the cadences of the heart along with the complexities of the tragedy that brought him to the stadium at the University of Arizona. The memorial service at times seemed more like a pep rally, and as the president invoked the lives of each of the fallen along with the many heroes that emerged from the shooting, smiles soon overtook the tears, and a spirit of unity and optimism took hold.

Obama spoke quietly at first but by the time he saluted Daniel Hernandez, the intern who saved Gabby Giffords’ life, and the petite woman who had wrestled away the ammo from the shooter, the president was smiling and clapping. He had a leather folder with his notes, and as he got comfortable, he seemed to need them less. He paid tribute to everyone involved in the Tucson shooting, finding solace in their stories, and how they represent what is best about America, from the husbands who instinctively shielded their spouses to the medical team tending to Giffords, who had opened her eyes that afternoon for the first time since Saturday.

Obama returned to the One America theme that carried him to the White House, and as a devoted father himself, he made 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green the vehicle to carry his message forward. He alluded to the partisan divisions that had emerged in the wake of the shooting, saying that demanding explanations is part of human nature. But then he imagined Christina, born on 9/11, jumping in puddles in heaven. “I want to live up to her expectations, I want America to be as good as she imagined it,” he said, concluding a speech that was as good as he can give, and right up there with other masters of the genre.

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