Skip to main content

Obama consoles grieving Bostonians, says we'll 'finish the race'

By Halimah Abdullah, CNN
updated 5:51 PM EDT, Fri April 19, 2013
  • Obama has had to offer words to a grieving nation on several occasions
  • Americans look to a president to act as "consoler-in-chief"
  • Obama's natural "preacher-like" style lends itself to speeches designed to sooth; rally

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama sought to reassure and inspire Bostonians reeling from the deadly marathon bombing, telling them that America stood with their grieving city and promised: "We'll keep going. We will finish the race."

With Holy Cross Cathedral packed with first responders, families of victims, political luminaries past and present, and members of the public, Obama called Thursday's interfaith service a chance to "mourn and measure our loss."

Standing at the podium, he said the bombing, being investigated as a terrorist act, was personal for millions of Americans who, in a myriad of ways, identify with the Hub.

"Every one of us stands with you," he said. "Boston may be your hometown -- but we claim it, too."

Injecting the experiences of he and his wife, Michelle, as law students just across the Charles River at Harvard and as a rising political figure at the 2004 Democratic convention, Obama said Boston's spirit remains "undaunted and the spirit of this country shall remain undimmed."

Obama in Boston: 'You will run again'
Honoring the Boston bombing victims
Victim: I saw things I wish I didn't see
Strangers save maimed mom, teen

The moment is something Obama, like other presidents before him, has become familiar with in the wake of national tragedy.

Among disasters on Obama's watch: A tornado in Joplin, Missouri, and mass shootings at Fort Hood, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado, and last December's school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.

Consoler-in-chief is a role modern presidents have become accustomed to filling, said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University historian and CNN contributor.

"It's an important role for presidents," Zelizer said. "Part of what the country wants is a figure who gets us through a particular crisis."

Obama's appearance at Boston's main Catholic church and visits with some of those injured at hospitals was an inflection point between the tragic chaos of three days ago and the intensifying investigation, which entered a new phase on Thursday with the release of a video by authorities showing two men they call suspects.

"We come together to pray and mourn and measure our loss," Obama said. "But we also come together today to reclaim that state of grace -- to reaffirm that the spirit of this city is undaunted and the spirit of this country shall remain undimmed."

The service was attended by Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican rival in last year's election and a former Massachusetts governor and a Boston-based business executive.

"I thought the president gave a superb address to the people of this city and the state and the nation," Romney said. "It was an inspiring day."

Obama's tone on Thursday was markedly different from the day before when he invoked the memory of mass shooting victims following a setback in the Senate for gun control priorities he supported.

He called that legislative outcome "a pretty shameful day in Washington."

Obama has been frustrated many times on the legislative front since taking office in 2009, but it has never hampered his ability to communicate to the public that he is in control, Zelizer said.

"There's a little bit of a preacher in him and that's something that has always drawn some people to him," Zelizer said. "It gets more powerful and poignant as the speech goes forward."

And as he has on previous occasions when tasked with rallying mourners, Obama vowed that the nation's spirit remains undaunted.

"Of that I have no doubt, you will run again," Obama said to applause in Boston as he projected optimism. "You will run again, because that's what the people of Boston are made of."

"We'll keep going. We will finish the race."

Part of complete coverage on
Boston Marathon Bombings
Survivors of three earlier bombings describe their journeys forward — and offer poignant words for those just one year away from the day that changed their lives.
updated 2:15 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
"United, we will always persevere." That was the message Massachusetts shared on the anniversary of twin bombings that turned last year's Boston Marathon from a celebration into a day of horror.
updated 2:47 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
I'm running it to make a simple statement: Acts of cowardice will not stop me from exercising my rights as an athlete and a human.
updated 3:40 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Many of those whose lives were shattered are still struggling to put the pieces back together. Here are some of the victims, as well as larger funds, who continue to need your support.
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
As April 15 approaches, the fact that we tell time in circles brings us to remember the attack on the Boston Marathon one year ago.
updated 10:47 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
CNN's Bill Weir talks to Carlos Arredondo about helping those injured immediately after the Boston Marathon bombing.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
By running in response to the tragedy, we weren't attempting to negate the irreparable harm done to the people of Boston last year. We wanted to do something, anything, to try to process it.
updated 7:24 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
All of our assumptions have turned out to be wrong. Here are four things we've learned since then:
updated 4:17 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been frozen in the public mind by four images.
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Tue April 8, 2014
Adrianne Haslet-Davis' life as a dancer was shattered last year at the Boston Marathon bombings.
updated 7:40 AM EDT, Mon March 24, 2014
A man who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon attack is engaged to the woman he was waiting for at the finish line.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
Mistaken identity in the hospital added to her family's grief.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Wed April 24, 2013
The slain MIT cop "was born to be a police officer."
updated 10:37 PM EDT, Thu April 18, 2013
The graduate student from China followed her passion to Boston.
updated 1:10 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013
Almost a year ago, 8-year-old Martin Richard wrote four simple words on a sign at school: No more hurting people.
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Wed July 17, 2013
Mery Daniel couldn't wait for Marathon. It was one of the things the aspiring doctor and Haitian immigrant loved most about living in Boston.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Thu May 2, 2013
After twin blasts shook Boston -- killing three and wounding more than 260 others -- investigators sprung into action looking for those responsible.
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Sun April 28, 2013
The black Mercedes SUV sped down Spruce Street going about 70 mph, the driver struggling to maintain control. The vehicle had a busted headlight and flat tire.
Click through our galleries of the Boston Marathon bombing, from perspectives on the attack to the suspects, as well as the manhunt and celebrations in Boston after both suspects were found.