Tony Norman: Gun madness should bring us all to tears
January 8, 2016 12:00 AM
Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press
By Tony Norman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the definitive history of Barack Obama’s presidency is written, his Tuesday speech in the East Room of the White House announcing unilateral initiatives his administration is taking to curb gun violence will be recalled as a moment that forced the nation to re-evaluate its assumptions about the emotional intelligence of its commander in chief.
The knock against President Obama has always been that he’s a bit of a cold fish. His predilection toward dignified stoicism often puts him at odds with the sound and fury of the electorate and the temperamental legislators who happily exploit it. As recently as last month, Mr. Obama was denounced by many conservatives as too sanguine in his response to America’s growing fear of terrorism.
Mr. Obama was accused of being too much like Mr. Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer on “Star Trek” who, whatever the threat to the Enterprise and its crew, always managed to suppress his emotions. The knock against the president just a few weeks ago was that his “robotic poise” was proof that he wasn’t in touch with the humanity of the American people. He was too dismissive of their paranoia.
Flanked by the loved ones of victims of gun violence, Mr. Obama announced a modest slate of gun safety measures. His words were stirring and evocative as he briefly recounted the gun-related tragedies that made his announcement in the East Room inevitable because of congressional inaction and capitulation to the gun lobby.
“The United States of America is not the only country on Earth with violent or dangerous people,” Mr. Obama said. “We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on Earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency. It doesn’t happen in other advanced countries. It’s not even close. And as I’ve said before, somehow we’ve become numb to it and we start thinking that this is normal.
“Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them,” Mr. Obama said toward the end of the speech. “Because our right to worship freely and safely — that right was denied Christians in Charleston, South Carolina. And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek. They had rights, too.
“Our right to peaceful assembly — that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our inalienable right to life liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newton. First-graders,” he said struggling with his emotions and fighting back tears as the cameras snapped pictures of the moment.
“And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun,” he said as his tears flowed freely. “Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad. And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day.”
While the East Room exploded with applause, Mr. Obama’s tears were met with mockery from many of his conservative critics. A strange creature at Fox News named Andrea Tantaros pronounced Mr. Obama’s heartfelt tears pure political theater and suggested that someone “check that podium for a raw onion.”
Skepticism about Mr. Obama’s sincerity was echoed by other conservatives who insisted that any president emotionally vulnerable enough to cry on camera over our patchwork of ineffective gun laws is possessed by both weak character and a tyrannical spirit that won’t be satisfied until all of America’s God-given guns have been confiscated.
Ironically, Donald Trump, a man who will never be accused of possessing an iota of empathy, is the only Republican presidential candidate secure enough in his own chest-thumping humanity to give Mr. Obama credit for being authentic on this issue even while disagreeing with him.
“I actually think he was sincere,” Mr. Trump said before segueing into his favorite subject — his own freakish popularity. “I’ll probably go down about five points in the polls by saying that. I think he’s incorrect about it. They’re just taking chunks and chunks out of the Second Amendment, but I think he probably means well,” Mr. Trump said.
Meanwhile, the entire Republican presidential field is racing to see who can be the most unsentimental and clear-eyed while prostrating themselves before the bloody altar of the American gun lobby.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.