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Leading by Example – President Obama, China and the Arizona Tragedy

Sally Painter, Blue Star Strategies

When President Barack Obama spoke to a group of thousands of people in Arizona after the tragic shooting that took the lives of 6 people, including a 9-year old girl, and seriously wounded 14 others including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, he appealed to all Americans to rise to the challenge to become more humane citizens of the world.

“"I believe we can be better,” he said during his impassioned speech to the standing room only audience at University of Arizona. The president told the rapt audience that “ we must make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds."

Yet, as his passionate words ring true for Americans everywhere, the president is about to come face to face with proving his mettle next week, in an example of the old adage “actions speak louder than words”.

Next week, President Obama, himself a Nobel Peace Prize winner, is hosting China’s President Hu Jintao for a State visit.

But Hu Jintao, who will be meeting with Obama to discuss numerous U.S. – China issues, is responsible for jailing Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner who languished in prison instead of receiving his honor in Oslo in December.

Liu Xiaobo had been honored with the prize due to his persistent advocacy of human rights in China, beginning with the infamous demonstrations for democracy at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

But instead of accolades and parades in his honor, this advocate for democracy was kept locked up in jail, and his wife under house arrest, leaving his seat at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony empty.

And, as the thunderous applause echoed throughout the hall, this was the first time since Hitler stopped German activist and pacifist Carl von Ossietzky from accepting his award in 1939, that a Nobel Peace Prize winner had been prevented from attending the ceremony.

With all eyes on an impassioned President Obama as he successfully rallies American citizens to dig deep and “be better” after the tragedy in Arizona, next week’s visit has outed the elephant in the room, or in this case, on the world stage.

Will President Obama broach the topic of human rights – and democracy – with Hu Jintao?

As America must indeed lead the way for not only democracy but also human rights for all nations, this is an opportunity for President Obama to step up and take his own advice.

Referring to murder victim 9-year old Christina Taylor Green, who had been born on September 11, 2001 and died in a hail of gunfire while trying to meet her congresswoman, the President said “I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it."

This week, he will have his chance to make good on that dream.


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