Monday, July 23, 2012

Obama continues to lead as Pastor-in-Chief on the Aurora shooting aftermath

The more President Obama plays Pastor-in-Chief over the Aurora shooting, the most discouraged and disgusted I get. The disgust is over realizing in a way that never struck me this way before that our press and political parties have developed a reliable ritual for dealing with this kind of recurring incident of mass gun killings. And not an especially constructive one.

President Obama made his own contribution to the genre in the way of the attempted assassination of Democratic Congresswoman Gaby Giffords in 2011. Obama declined to use the occasion this very political violent act to stigmatize the hysterical rightwing hatemongering now magnified far beyond the mail-order tracts and White Citizens Council meetings where they were found in Lee Harvey Oswald's day thanks to FOX News, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of rightwing hate radio. Lord knows he didn't use it to promote any kind of better control of weapons and ammunition clips suited only for mass killing of the sort done in wartime. Instead, he gave us treacly bromides about the general need for "civility", which mainly served Republicans and liberal concern trolls to wag their fingers at Democratic progressive who were pushing back against the radical agenda of the new Republican House majority.

Now he picks up that same theme, disdaining as a political leader to do more than issue the required praise for local officials and police. And he uses his Pastor-in-Chief act to avoid addressing any needed changes in public policy

President Obama Speaks After Visiting Aurora, Colorado Hospital YouTube date 07/23/2012; speech 07/22/2012:

Transcript at this link. What the Democratic President gives us in that speech is the following:

  • Boilerplate praise of local officials
  • Pastoral reassurances complete with quotes from the Bible that are fine for a minister performing a funeral but inappropriate for a public official in a secular Republic
  • Expressions of contempt for the suspect in the shooting and a reassurance that he will feel "the full force of our justice system"
  • A Reader's Digest-type story about the assistance a young woman in the theater gave to another young woman wounded in the neck

The story he tells about Allie and Stephanie is indeed moving. But the President uses it explicitly to say that in thinking about this incident we should spend "most of our time reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie." In other words, looking for inspirational tales of uplift instead of asking about public policy implications of this mass murder.

I don't want to detract from the ability of anyone who needs to take comfort from such presentations as the President's to do so. So if hearing any criticism of what he left out is going to be distressing, I suggest you skip the rest of this post.

If I were a Pod Pundit on TV, I would probably be saying that it will boost Obama's stature politically to give a press conference like this because it will show, like Bill Clinton, he can "feel your pain". Whether the specific effect of this incident Obama's words on it can be precisely measured by pollsters is doubtful. But Colorado is seen by the Presidential campaigns as an important swing state, if you'll forgive for mentioning a consideration that doesn't fit with the pious tone of the President's approach.

The President said of his talks with the families of the victims of this particular incident of mass gun killing, "My main task was to serve as the representative of the entire country and let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment and will continue to think about them each and every day."

Please. A large portion of the country is thinking about the victims only long enough to reflect that there's been another mass gun killing that provides them reassurance that anyone is free to acquire automatic weapons and 100-round clips to murder large numbers of people whenever the spirit of the NRA's imaginary version of the Second Amendment moves them to do so.

What we didn't hear from Obama in this presentation, and are unlikely to hear from him or his surrogates:

  • Any hint that the hostility toward government services and the demonizing of public employees by Republicans and all too many Democrats is severely limiting the availability of even police services in many communities
  • Any criticism of the easy and legal availability of automatic weapons and ammo clips with dozens of rounds that are only useful for mass gun killing
  • Any pushback against the paranoid, lying claims by the arms lobby and their rightwing followers who parrot them for free that Obama and the UN are plotting to seize ever'body's huntin' rifles, a claim that not only promotes gun sales but encourages panic on the part of gun nuts of both the political and apolitical sorts
  • Any serious discussion of the larger social context of violence like the neglect of mental health issues, although the President did call on us to reflect on what we can do to address the causes of violence while we mainly repeat inspiring stories about acts of courage and heroism

Obama's approach surely has to do in no small part with his passion, obsession even, with appearing as the postpartisan uniter who transcends politics. And playing Pastor-in-Chief in a situation like this gives him a chance to do just that, avoiding any policy proposals that would prompt the Republicans to accuse him of "playing politics". Of course, the Republicans will just invent their own excuses to do so. And the conspiracy theories will keep coming. Alex Jones, who has a lot of credibility on the chain-e-mail circuit that is still an important transmission belt for conservatives, is already saying that the Aurora shooting was a UN-Obamunist plot.

It's worth noting the closing of his presentation:

I don't know how many people at any age would have the presence of mind that Stephanie did, or the courage that Allie showed. And so, as tragic as the circumstances of what we've seen today are, as heartbreaking as it is for the families, it's worth us spending most of our time reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie, because they represent what's best in us, and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come.

To the entire community of Aurora, the country is thinking of you. I know that there's going to be a vigil and an opportunity for everybody to come together. And I hope that all those who are in attendance understand that the entire country will be there in prayer and reflection today.

So thank you. God bless you. God bless all who helped to respond to this tragedy. And I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks, and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country, but also reflect on all the wonderful people who make this the greatest country on Earth. [my emphasis]
If I have said this in some earlier post, I should have: if the US is greatest country on Earth, we don't need to have our public officials constantly saying so. The very fact that our public officials feel that it's politically necessary to incessantly repeat what is self-evidently an arrogant, nationalistic claim is itself enough to make you wonder how many voters really believe that. If they did, they wouldn't need the constant reassurance. Or maybe it's more our politicians expressing they own self-importance.

But what's striking to me is that Obama is describing the randomly-chosen victims of a mass gun murder in almost identical terms to the rhetorical idolatry for soldiers that has become standard for American politicians: "they represent what's best in us" (which is what our super-patriots constantly say about the armed services); "the country is thinking of you"; "it's worth us spending most of our time reflecting on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie"; "all the wonderful people who make this the greatest country on Earth." The White House is probably already booking Allie and Stephanie for a seat of honor next to the First Lady at next January's State of the Union address.

A grisly mass gun murder now counts for all intents and purposes as a patriotic event complete with victims to be mourned as heroes and models and expresses of all our nationalistic American exceptional wonderfulness. There's something really, really wrong with this picture.

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