When I watched President Obama talk about the Connecticut elementary school massacre, I posted to Facebook “Obama is crying at the press conference.”
I wrote it because I was startled to see a president cry. I had never heard of that happening, in history.
But, upon a little reflection, his tears and the rest of his words during the press conference today were actually disappointing — and maybe even infuriating. Because they distracted an opportunity to make a change. I wanted him to be a fucking leader.
The nation is supposed to mourn. The president is supposed to act.
We’d like to say today’s political silence is “for respect”. But respect for who?
The children? They can’t hear you.
The families? They’re not paying attention to you.
Silence starts to look like convenient cover for not dealing with the problem. The best measure of respect for those slain children and their families is doing everything to prevent this from happening again. And that includes starting the conversation while you can still taste the tears.
That is what addressing the nation is for. The president is talking to millions of sad and angry Americans. We elect him to channel those emotions — not mimic them. And he knows that, at least within his party, he has a mandate to change this country’s gun laws.
Condolences and tears — while 100% appropriate — only address the disease’s symptoms. That is not why we voted for him. The great psychology question “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?” is at play here. The president should be smarter than us, more worldly, calmer, able to talk circles around us — and stronger, emotionally.
That we can’t remember seeing a president cry is not necessarily a historical precedent to celebrate. Thinking back to our stalwart leaders — from Lincoln, to FDR, to Kennedy — it’s just not presidential. Leaders are rocks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with crying, but there’s a time and place for it. (No doubt all of them, rightfully, had very tender moments out of the public eye.)
Imagine if President Obama steps to that pulpit, offers his condolences (which he did) — but then looks into the camera and says that he’s sending a bill to Congress next week. It will clamp down on fire arms. He doesn’t have to mention anything about parties or politics. The bill is about keeping American’s safe. No more looking over our shoulders in malls and schools.
He honors the dead by trying to prevent more of them.
If he does that, will anything happen? Who knows. Does he give up any precious “political capital”? No — the Right already hates him and he’s talking to a bereaved nation. Does it do much needed damage to the NRA and the psychotic gun lobby, and shift the debate in the correct direction? Absolutely.
But now, we’re staring at the prospect of another terrible tragedy passing without action. We’ll sign online petitions; next week, we’ll read profiles on the killer and the victims; we’ll hug our family a little tighter over the holidays. Then we’ll be into the new year and this terrible thing will be one more point on the line. Columbine seems so long ago.
Like most of us today, I let tears flow — in public.
But the president doesn’t get to. Until later, when he closes the door to his bedroom and collapses in Michelle’s arms.
Let’s hope for that fucking leader next week.