President Obama represented the best of America last night in Tucson, despite the inappropriate cheering and hooting of the crowd and a loquatious “medicine man,” who looked like Ward Churchill and blessed the four corners of just about everything. Note to program planners: next time you require a medicine man to kick off a solemn ceremony, find a less self-centered one.

Now, allow me to say something I rarely say: The adults on the program last night were the contingent from Washington, D.C.  Attorney General Eric Holder, who wisely refrained from making remarks, read from the New Testament, while Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s read from Isaiah and did such a good job that I hope the Shakespeare Theatre will invite her to read something next season. But President Obama was the best, followed by Daniel Hernandez, the young aide who rushed to help his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. He spoke without notes and was just terrific.

There may have been some who wanted Obama to come right out and revile the poisonous charges that were leveled against Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. That would have injected the wrong note into the night-we were there to remember the dead, not to defend our unjustly attacked friends on this side of the political aisle. But the president came close:

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations — to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized — 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 a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, “when I looked for light, then came darkness.” Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind. So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

This was perfect-dignified and subtle. The discussion was already beginning to turn away from the false and malicious charges of the left, and this was the ideal way for the president to call a halt to the calumny. (By the way, even though the atmosphere has shifted a bit and the president said the right things, I don’t expect the left to behave differently–too much is at stake for them, and, unlike the president, they do not have to address the whole nation.) After the president’s dignity, especially his peroration about Christina Taylor Green, the youngest casualty, it was especially disconcerting to hear a CNN anchor jumping in with an incredibly inane question to the network’s man on the spot, “Has the healing begun yet?”

I’m not the only person on this side of the aisle who was pleased by the president’s remarks in Tucson:

Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post noted that the evening was not about politics.

John Podhoretz says the president was perfect but the crowd was appalling.

Julie Mason’s news story captured the best of the speech, the president’s call for a debate “worthy of those we lost.”