Our hearts are broken: Obama
Tearing up during his address, US President Barack Obama says he reacts to the deadly school shooting in Connecticut not as a president, but a parent.PT1M20S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2bfws 620 349 December 15, 2012
Tears don't cut it, Mr President. After another school massacre on Friday, a tearful Barack Obama declared ''our hearts are broken'', before promising ''meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics''.
Sadly, the man is not to be believed.
Wind back. Try January last year and a senseless shooting in Arizona, in which six people were murdered and 18 injured, including the congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
Grief … a sorrowful Barack Obama faces the media. Photo: Reuters
Obama told the country at the time: ''We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence.'' To which a sceptic might justifiably reply: ''Yes, we can.''
Similarly, when Obama said on Friday that he was responding as a parent, not as a president, the cynic would have observed ''same as last time'', which is to say he did nothing.
As Giffords fought for her life - a bullet had sliced through her head - Obama adopted one of his heroic poses, declaring: ''We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.''
He asked that Americans conduct ''a national conversation … about everything, from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system''.
And then the President, who might have been expected to lead such a conversation, nodded off.
One of Obama's problems is that he talks political courage better than he actually does it. Even as the gunman rampaged through Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, Americans were digesting Obama's latest collapse in the face of an ugly stare and tough talk from the conservative side of politics.
Obama had wanted Susan Rice, his UN ambassador, to take over from Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. The President talked tough and then went to water, allowing Rice to withdraw her name and leaving the Republicans as victors in the first stoush of the new presidential term.
That American conversation could start by asking how obscene does an obscenity have to be before people respond, beyond wondering if Hollywood will make this massacre into a film; or perhaps, how pathetic should pathetic leadership become, before voters demand action.
By the time he breasted the microphones on Friday afternoon, Obama at least had the right words to say. Earlier, his political machine seemed to adopt the same tactics as the political thugs who run the National Rifle Association. When the White House spokesman, Jay Carney, was asked by the media about gun-law reform, he responded with that hoary old shut-down of what might be the start of a national debate: ''Today is not the day.''
Wrong. A day on which 28 innocents - 20 of them schoolchildren - are murdered is a perfect day on which to challenge and stare down those who defend a legal system and culture that makes the US one of the most violent countries on Earth.
Americans like to tut-tut at the barbarity of those depraved people in Syria who, since the outbreak of civil war early last year, have killed an estimated 40,000 of their own. But, ho-hum, as many as 30,000 Americans die from gun violence every year.
Mushed in with the much-abused notion of personal liberty, Americans love guns. As many as 300 million weapons are in circulation and another 4 million are pushed into the market each year. A reputable organ like The Atlantic Monthly will run a supposedly learned piece of 6000-plus words, trying to stand up an argument that more guns are the answer.
Thoughtful writers, like Time's Joe Klein, do grapple with the complexity of it all. ''These rampages mean something, but the meaning is complicated and hard to untangle,'' he wrote in August, in the aftermath of the Colorado cinema massacre in which 12 filmgoers died.
''The violence has a lot to do with the state of our mental health; the increased mobility and atomisation of our society; the time young men in particular spend alone, staring into television and computer screens; the comic-book depiction of brutality - and yes, the availability of even more kinetic weaponry.''
Likewise, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein asks the bleeding obvious: if dozens of motorists die in road collapses, surely there would be talk about preventing road collapses; if terrorists detonate bombs in port after port, wouldn't Congress work to upgrade national security.
The Post's Klein then notes: ''As others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn't 'too soon.' It's much too late.''
To all this, the gun lobby responds inanely. Try this sample, penned by a Daniel Greenfield in frontpagemag.com in an article headlined ''The only way to stop a gun is with a gun'': ''The gun control debate … is reducible to the question of whether we are individuals who make our own decisions or a great squishy social mass that helplessly responds to stimuli.
''The clash that will define the future of America is this collision between the individual and the state, between disorganised freedom and organised compassion, between a self-directed experiment in self-government and an experiment conducted by trained experts on a lab monkey population.''
The manner in which elected politicians cower in the face of threats by the gun lobby continues to amaze and little attention is paid to detailed research that proves it is a paper tiger.
Even the NRA being revealed as ''the biggest loser'' in last month's election campaign, in terms of having virtually no impact on the outcome despite a $10.9 million spend, was reported only fleetingly.
Defining a return on investment as the effectiveness of lobbying dollars spent to support candidates who won and to oppose candidates who lost, the Sunlight Foundation, which tracks political spending, calculated the NRA's return on investment at a paltry 0.8 per cent.
Obama could not have foreseen Friday's bloodletting. Still, he was a bit too cocky in a midweek television interview, when asked what the Feds would do about Colorado and Washington states legalising the recreational use of marijuana. ''We've got bigger fish to fry,'' he said.
Well then, perhaps it's time Mr Obama gathered the people around the national campfire to show them how he might fry a big fish like, oh, how about the NRA?