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A presidential message Obama strikes just the right tone in appealing to Americans' better angels

In the wake of Saturday's shootings that left six people dead in Tucson, Ariz., President Obama called for a more civilized political discourse and urged the nation to let the senseless rampage inspire them to be better citizens. If Tucson alone doesn't inspire more responsible national behavior, there have been previous examples, perhaps most prominently the response to 9/1 1 and the Oklahoma City bombing -- wrenching events when brave people did us proud in the name of America.

The people gathered on a street corner Saturday were participating in their democracy when a crazy man opened fire at the crowd. He started with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and went down the line in a rush to kill. Among the dead is a federal judge and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green -- born on Sept. 11, 2001 -- who had just been elected to the student council at her elementary school and was showing an interest in public service. They should not have died in vain, just like other Americans who gave their lives for this country should not have died in vain.

It can be assumed that they believed in the ideals of free speech and participatory democracy, though in the modern age those ideals have brought on a freakishly robust and sometimes hate-filled dialogue that serves few people except those who shout the loudest and get to pitch the most products. It seems like many of these wags would rather see their us-versus-them ideologies prevail than work with others toward a better society. As we've said before, we don't think the speech coming from ideologues on the right and left is at the same volume. The right has transformed the airwaves in America -- not for the better.

But we'll put that opinion aside for now. Obama struck the right tone in urging Americans to honor the dead by respecting differing viewpoints. "At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized," he said, "at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds." Critics charged the president with being too much a cheerleader in his remarks; we disagree. He helped bring people together and gave them a path to overcome their own resistence.

Taken a step further, Americans can talk to each other in a way that builds a better society, not in a way that destroys, denigrates or appeals to the lowest common denominator. Troops stormed the beaches and rescuers ran into fallen buildings to protect a good society, not to perpetuate selfishness and rants. Attitudes and beliefs have always been in conflict in this nation -- generally a good thing -- but not at today's fevered and intolerant pitch. Let's do better.

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