Obama heads to Arizona as shot lawmaker fights for life

The Arizona shooting tragedy unleashed a polarising national debate in US.

Updated: Jan 12, 2011, 14:34 PM IST

Washington: President Barack Obama will lead Americans in national mourning on Wednesday after an Arizona shooting tragedy unleashed a polarising national debate about the violent rhetoric rocking US politics.

Obama will fly to the southwestern state to lead a tribute service for the six people who were killed and the 14 wounded in the assassination attempt on congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is fighting for her life in a hospital.

His trip will take place after the family of the alleged gunman Jared Loughner said they were "so very sorry" about Saturday`s assault and as surgeons gave an upbeat forecast of Democrat Giffords`s condition.

Obama faces a moment fraught with risk but shrouded in political opportunity when he leads the service in Tucson, Arizona, at a time when he is trying to revive his bond with US voters.

He will eulogise the victims and chart a path ahead for a political community convulsed by shock after the shooting spree.

His task is complicated by liberal claims that a climate of hate whipped up by conservative figures like Sarah Palin may have tipped Loughner over the edge and exposed malign divisions of US politics.

Presidents, in their symbolic role as head of state and commander-in-chief are periodically required to invoke unity in a moment of crisis, weaving shocking events into a parable of American history and national mythology.

They have summoned poetry, like Ronald Reagan after a space shuttle disaster in 1986, or prose pulsing with resolve, like George W Bush in his National Cathedral address after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Such speeches are "a way to take a tragedy and to be sober and sombre but also to use it as a way to bring the country together and to move it forward," said political science professor Jamie McKown.

Obama will likely avoid assigning blame, while honouring the dead and offering counsel for the living.

"The President began working on his speech last night. He is thinking through what he wants to say," a White House official said on Tuesday.

"He will devote most of his remarks to memorialising the victims."

Surgeons gave an upbeat outlook for Giffords on Tuesday, as she remained in intensive care after brain surgery following Saturday`s attack.

"She`s holding her own," said Michael Lemole, the head neurosurgeon who operated on Giffords, adding that she was still responding to simple commands, a key sign for her recovery prospects.

"I`m very encouraged by the fact that she`s done so well," he said.

Bureau Report