WASHINGTON, September 16, 2013 — President Obama should have just cancelled his economic speech. If it is not the most oddly-timed presidential speech ever delivered, it is probably in the top ten.
Giving an economic speech during an ongoing manhunt for two shooters after a shooting rampage that left at least 13 dead at the Washington Navy Yard is both strange and insensitive.
“Before I begin, let me say a few words about the tragedy that is unfolding not far away from here, at the Washington Navy Yard. That’s part of why our event today was delayed,” Obama said.
This sounded weird and unsettling. It came across as if the tragedy were a sideshow, a distraction the president needed to quickly get through before moving on to more important things like his economic agenda. Even more distressing, the White House did not even consider cancelling the speech, according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
The American people have been disappointed with Obama’s leadership in recent weeks, especially on Syria. From his careless “red line” to the “shot across the bow” comment, from arguing for the need for an urgent retaliation against Assad to asking for Congressional approval at the eleventh hour to asking that Congress delay its vote on the issue, Obama has appeared indecisive.
This has contributed to his meager 40 percent approval on foreign policy issues according to the latest CNN poll.
So it is understandable that the White House felt the need to reposition the president away from Syria. But didn’t any of his communications people think to say, “Mr. President, out of sensitivity for the victims and families of the Navy Yard shooting, maybe we should hold off on the economic speech for now.”
There was no new policy idea or initiative to announce. The speech was simply another rhetorical “pivot” back to the economy, an evergreen political strategy the Obama administration has overused.
During a time of crisis, we look to the president for comfort and healing, for a sense of hope and meaning, and for reassurance that strong action will be taken to prevent future acts of terror.
President Obama became the Comforter-in-Chief in the aftermath of the massacre in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, at an elementary school in Newtown, in a movie theater in Colorado and after the bombing at the finish line of a Boston marathon.
Sadly, the country needs him to play that role once again.
Ayobami is graduate student in George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.
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