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Some question pep rally atmosphere at Obama speech

President Barack Obama takes his seat after finishing his speech at a memorial service in Tucson, Ariz., to console the nation and honor the victims of a shooting rampage that that killed six people and left 14 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on the University of Arizona campus, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Barack Obama takes his seat after finishing his speech at a memorial service in Tucson, Ariz., to console the nation and honor the victims of a shooting rampage that that killed six people and left 14 injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, on the University of Arizona campus, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

What was billed as a memorial for victims of the Arizona shooting rampage turned into a rollicking rally, leaving some conservative commentators wondering whether President Barack Obama’s speech was a scripted political event. Not so, insisted the White House and host University of Arizona.

Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday he and other aides didn’t expect the president’s remarks at the school’s basketball arena to receive as much rousing applause as it did. Gibbs said the crowd’s response, at times cheering and shouting, was understandable.

“I think part of the grieving process is celebrating the lives of those that were lost, and celebrating the miracles of those that survived,” he said.

The university said it did the planning with minimal input from the White House. The school paid for the event, including $60,000 for 20,000 T-shirts bearing the words “Together We Thrive,” which were handed out for free. The money will not come student tuition, fees or tax dollars.

Well before Obama arrived, the atmosphere had become celebratory. People lined up for hours, and when the doors finally opened about two hours before the start, a huge cheer went up and the crowd surged into the arena.

With the exception of elected officials, victims and their families, first responders and medical professionals, the capacity crowd of about 14,000 was admitted on a first-come, first-served basis Wednesday, university spokeswoman Jennifer Fitzenberger said.

But the choreographed nature of the event was too much for some.

“Can’t the Democrat political stage managers give it a break just once?,” conservative commentator Michelle Malkin wrote in a column on her website, then questioned the lack of White House interaction with the university.

“Given the Obama White House’s meticulous attention to stage prop details, however, I would say the odds of involvement by Axelrod/Plouffe & Co. are high.”

David Plouffe is a presidential adviser who was the architect of Obama’s presidential campaign; White House senior adviser David Axelrod has been his political strategist and is to advise the Obama’s re-election campaign.

Rich Lowry of the National Review wrote that “the pep-rally atmosphere was inappropriate and disconcerting,” although he admired the president’s speech.

To observers, the crowd was spontaneous.

They cheered when the two trauma surgeons who treated Rep. Gabrielle Giffords entered and were shown on the overhead screen. As the camera would focus on other individuals thrust into the spotlight after the shooting, the crowd went wild, whether it was the first responders, the woman who grabbed the alleged gunman’s ammunition or Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped Giffords at the scene of the shooting.

Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who drew criticism from some corners for his remarks about Arizona immediately after the shooting, drew particularly loud applause and responded with a wave to the cameras.

Despite the celebrations in the rafters, the mood below where the families of the victims, the president and other officials sat was far more somber.

Obama frequently bowed his head, resting his chin on his clasped hands. First lady Michelle Obama wiped tears from her eyes. Families of the victims held each other close as speakers shared personal memories of their loved ones.

The president himself appeared taken aback at the sustained applause he received after his remarks. He waved quickly to the crowd as he left the stage, stood with his head down as the crowd continued to cheer, then reached for his wife, and kissed her several times on the cheek.

___

Christie reported from Phoenix. Associated Press writer Julie Pace in Washington and Tucson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

5 comments

  1. Leave it to the birthers and troglodytes like Malkin to find fault with anything Obama does. What have venal “pundits” (I use that term loosely) like Michelle (Olberman, Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Maddow et al) ever contributed to society besides barrels of animosity? She asks: “Can’t the Democrat political stage managers give it a break just once?” I ask: Can’t the extremists give it a break just once?

  2. Associated press, why are you forming your article on the comments made by fox news commentators and not the actual participants of the event? AZcapitoltimes, why did you post this and not other accounts of this event? Here’s Mike Huckabee:

    First of all, congratulations to President Obama for what was easily the best speech of his presidency. He struck the exact proper tone in noting that while this does give us an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of being civil in our disagreements that it is wrong to assign blame for the personal violent actions of a mad man to other people’s political speech.
    Whether out of bias or a quest for controversy or maybe just out of habit some members of the chattering classes went chasing blindly after an angle that would stir the most heated responses and they lost sight of the real story and that is the worst possible failure for a journalist. Even now after the president spelled it out for them many are still making the same mistake and missing the point about the president’s appearance at the memorial.
    It is not about politics, whether it is going to raise his approval ratings or boost his reelection chances, and it certainly isn’t about sleazy opportunists who leapt to blame a senseless tragedy on the political speech of whatever side they disagreed with. No, it was about 20 people in Tucson…. I can’t believe that some people have to be continually reminded of this but some things really are bigger than politics and this is one of them. And all Americans should be grateful to our president for saying it beautifully.

  3. The clapping was a bit, I mean just a BIT over KILL!! If ya know what I MEAN!! He (pres.) has’ta look good after what he’s been pulling/doing to AZ.

  4. Lets get this STRAIGHT. This Man had a MEDICAL problem, maybe SCHIZOPHENIC, CNN reports, Jared Lee Loughner, could NOT be on his Parents Medical because of PRE EXSITING. And JARED LEE LOUGHNER could NOT afford his own medical health care QUESTION:; Now would all THESE people be ALIVE if we had Obama’s PUBLIC OPTION? And been able to AFFORD his OWN?
    Thanks john boehner, joe lieberman.

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