It was a good week for President Barack Obama.
His Trans-Pacific trade effort hurdled past a Congressional road block put up by his own party. The Supreme Court declined to pull the rug out from under his signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act, then served up a momentous and historic victory for the progressive ethos in its ruling on marriage equality.
A few hours after publicly applauding the marriage decision, Obama took to a pulpit and delivered one of the most poignant and effective speeches of his political life. The occasion was his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the South Carolina state senator and pastor of the Mother Emmanuel Church who was slain with eight other parishioners during a Bible study session.
Obama called Clem Pinckney his friend, and imbued the moment with an eloquent meditation on the nature of God and grace. Early on, he spoke the words of “Amazing Grace,” and by the end, rising to the moment, he began singing, at first unaccompanied and then joined by the rising swell of attendees at Pinckney’s funeral: “...how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”
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Obama honored Pinckney’s legacy as a man of the cloth and a public servant. Appropriately he addressed the symbolic burden carried by the Confederate battle flag that flies outside the South Carolina capitol. The flag, he said, didn’t cause the Charleston murders, but it “has always represented more than ancestral pride.” And he acknowledged that too often the national conversations about race are allowed to slide into memory without real progress and too often talk about gun violence leads nowhere.
But Obama’s theme kept turning back to the notion that “God works in mysterious ways” and “grace is not earned” —it’s a gift of God, and Rev. Pinckney knew “the path of grace involves an open mind, and more importantly an open heart.” And soon he was singing, and affirming a stirring memorial for the fallen and subtly imbuing a rather amazing week with a sense of compassion and uplift beyond the realm of politics and rhetorical conflict. Amen to that.
Steve Paul, editorial page editor: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @sbpaul.