LOS ANGELES, December 17, 2012 — President Obama spoke from Newtown, Connecticut on Sunday night, only two days after a shooter murdered 27 people, including twenty young children. Overall this was a good speech, not a great one for the ages. His remarks after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords were magnificent. On this night, he was heartfelt but occasionally uneven.
Confusion reigned before the speech started when his remarks were given during Sunday Night Football, which featured the local New England Patriots. Thousands of New Englanders at the game did not hear or see his remarks.
The suspense was whether Obama would speak in generalities or offer specific policy proposals. Some people would say that advancing a political agenda at a funeral is unseemly, yet there is a valid counter-argument. Without specifics, what does he really have to offer? He already offered thoughtful remarks, and has faced past criticism for taking news time without making actual news. He had to walk a tightrope, balancing those wanting zero politics and those demanding policy action.
He started out strong, saying “Newtown, you are not alone.” Obama appropriately named the adults lost. He offered a moment of levity through the tears when recounting a story of one child who said that he knew karate and would help them all lead the way out.
Mr. Obama appeared to get to the meat of the speech when he said, “We as a nation are left with some hard questions,” then delayed the hard part, falling back on boilerplate “It takes a village” verbiage that offends few but says little.
“No matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself.”
Many critics disagree.
“This is something we can only do together.”
“We’re counting on everybody to help look after ours.”
Actually, many are not.
Mr. Obama then delivered stronger remarks.
“Can we truly say as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we are doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We are not doing enough, and we will have to change.”
Obama noted that this is the fourth time during his presidency he has had to speak about a tragedy of this type.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. To end them we must change.” “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. That can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
Now it was time to get straight to the point. He set it up well. Either he would offer specifics, or rely on the platitudes that frustrate supporters and critics alike.
For his fiercest critics, he did “it” again.
“In the coming weeks I’ll 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.”
That’s it? He said absolutely nothing. He will talk to people and try to prevent more tragedies? This is Obama trying to be all things to all people, which is why it means nothing. His supporters will insist that he “obviously” meant gun control, but pro-gun Democrats will also insist that he never used those words. The man who made the phrase “leading from behind” should invent a new phrase: “tough inaction.”
If he pursues gun control, he can tell everyone he clearly alluded to it in his speech. If he doesn’t, he can claim that he never advocated for it. His supporters will call him “clever” and “nuanced,” but critics will see this as being “too cute by half,” or duplicitous. Those who wanted flowery words (which at a funeral is fine) should be satisfied with his oratory, but those wanting specifics did not get them. He is a master of getting people to think that because they agree with him that he agrees with them. He said that abortion was “above his pay grade” and that his gay marriage position was “evolving.” Clarity can be good, and time will tell if this was one of those times.
The meaty middle of his speech was a veggie-burger. Since the speech ended with flowery words not requiring meat, it was eloquent.
“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage?”
President Obama then mentioned the first names of the twenty children lost to us all before his very powerful closing: “For those who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”
President Obama has been accused of insincerity. Regarding children, he is very sincere. His emotions on the subject of education, schools, and children are genuine. He loves his daughters, and children in general. Those criticizing his “too cool for school” demeanor should note that he teared up over this. His sorrow and anger are profound and real.
Yet can uniting actions follow when the words are malleable? Will he treat those opposed to gun control as loyal opposition? Does he believe that people wanting different solutions also care deeply about the problem? Or do “bitter people who cling to guns and religion” prefer dead children?
Leadership means speaking to everybody with a forked tongue. President Obama is very good at playing Comforter-in-Chief. This aspect of this speech was solid. As for action, it is impossible to disagree with his words when most people truly cannot decipher their meaning. Maybe he wants that. If so, that is what separates great speeches from great presidents.
Americans united in grief and prayers for Newtown. If Obama wants to be a great leader, he has to ensure that disagreements over solutions do not rip us asunder again.
Brooklyn born, Long Island raised, and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a politically conservative columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.”
Eric is 100% alcohol, tobacco, drug, and liberalism free. Follow Eric on Twitter
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