Sunday, December 16, 2012

The President in Newtown: more National Pastor talk, no real sign of policy change

National Pastor President Obama spoke to a vigil in Newtown CT for those killed in Friday's mass gun murder there, Remarks by the President at Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil 12/16/2012:

He opened up with a Scripture reading, emphasizing that he prefers to react to these things as a National Pastor, not "as a President" (his words from Friday).

And he played the national unifier and the Chief Comforter, a role in which he seems very comfortable:

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown -- you are not alone.
It goes on with the National Pastor talk, and no doubt it was comforting to the grieving in the moment, and will get the National Pastor President good press.

Thoughts and prayers? Check.
Calling it a tragedy, not a mass murder? Check.
Talking about hugging? Check.
Very vague idea that something should be done? Check.
Avoidance of the word "gun"? Check.
Total lack of change in policy? Check.

He did have more vague talk about maybe sometime thinking about doing something to mitigate these mass shootings:

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. ...

This is our first task -- caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that -- then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens -- from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators -- in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
That's pretty much it on the action front.

So far, we've haven't heard a peep of a change from what his policy was after the Sikh Temple shooting in August: we'd like to restore the federal assault ban, but Congress is stalemated and, golly gee, what can just a President do? Also, we love, love, love the Second Amendment.

For policy, I'm guessing the key part of his speech is not, "Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?" In fact, that's effectively a statement of his policy on gun proliferation throughout his Presidency. I'm worried that it's this: We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law -- no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society." (my emphasis) This has been Obama's policy all along: treat these mass gun murders primarily as "tragedies" but normalize them by lumping them together with all other murders. In fact, he does the normalization routine here:

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America -- victims whose -- much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. [my emphasis]
There would be a way to talk about these as related that could emphasize the importance of a variety of measures including anti-gun proliferation laws. But as President Middle-Man the Compulsive Moderate knows, overall violent crime is down over the last decade. By this framing, he's helping the gun lobby make the argument that things are getting better anyway, nothing to worry about, move right along.

But there is a qualitative difference between a shooting in a drug deal gone bad or a family dispute and the mass-murder phenomena like we saw just this year in Aurora, Oak Creek and Newtown. (Do we count the Portland mall shooting spree as mass murder because the shooter managed to kill "only" two victims?)

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe by the time the next one, or two, or three of these happen, the National Pastor President will be actually pushing to get better laws through Congress.

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