Wednesday was a planned day of mourning and, to a certain degree, celebration of the lives of those who died in the Arizona tragedy. It was a time, most involved seemed to agree, when politics would be left behind, and the words and deeds would reflect solely on what had transpired. And, perhaps, on how we can better ourselves.

Yet whether we like it or not, politics is politics, and at times like these that reality cannot be avoided.

Early in the day, well before the president spoke at a University of Arizona memorial service, Sarah Palin released her first at-length statement since the shooting spree. Her words, to be incredibly kind, were ridiculous. In much of the world, leadership involves stepping forward and offering people a shining light. It involves bringing folks together; finding common bonds; seeking out solutions and cutting off problems before they arrive.

What leadership does not include is self-preservation at all costs.

Which is why Sarah Palin, aspiring president, failed so miserably with this address:

Mrs. Palin, we all get it—you didn’t shoot anyone; you didn’t inspire the shooting of anyone; words are just words, and come day’s end they render people blameless. Again, we get it. What strikes me as, ahem, awkward is Palin’s need to defend herself on a day 100 percent not about her. Angry at the press? Fine. Upset over perceptions? OK. But you issue this—today? Really?

Hours later, Barack Obama took the stage. And while I have been down on him lately, his words and message—perfect. Perfectly stated, perfectly delivered, perfectly said. Wanna know what it means to lead and inspire? Just watch.

Ever since she emerged on the national stage during the 2008 election, Palin has baffled me. Her knowledge is limited, her speech is terrible, her accomplishments are thin. Yet somehow, the more she screws up, the more her followers cling to her.

Will that continue after today?