At one time in the United States, when storied leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan walked the corridors of the White House, the annual State of the Union actually meant something. Whether delivered as a written report, or in person to a joint session of Congress, the ceremonial act was, as Article II of the U. S. Constitution mandates, an opportunity for the President to “give to the Congress information of the state of the union,” as well as recommend policies to fix the issues currently facing the nation. Most importantly, given the stature and respect of those delivering the remarks, State of the Union addresses were events that Americans looked to for real substance, reassurance, and even inspiration.
Today -- and especially since Bill Clinton discovered that States of the Union provided an excellent opportunity to present a political laundry list for his Party's supporters -- we are lucky to get just one genuine fact that has not first been put through the ringer of highly paid speechwriters, political consultants, and Party apparatchiks. Even guests of the First Family have become political pawns, carefully chosen to serve as human exclamation points to punctuate the cause du jour featured in the President’s speech.
This year, the theatrics that accompanied Barack Obama's final State of the Union took a new twist, with one visitor's seat left vacant as a contrived “memorial” to the victims of gun violence; used by the President to shame Congress for its supposed inaction on gun control.
The real "empty seat," however, is the one behind the President's Oval Office desk.
For seven years, we have been held captive as Obama periodically bloviates about the need for tighter gun control, notably after each devastating tragedy involving firearms. A perfect example of this was Obama’s firearms “town hall” last week, in which carefully screened questions served up to the President repeated opportunities to deliver long screeds about gun control, with virtually no substance, but much smoke and mirrors.
Obama, it is well-established, never has been loathe to point fingers and uses his presidential bully pulpit to try to shame supporters of the Second Amendment -- often the National Rifle Association by name as a proxy for all firearms owners as a whole. The sheer paranoia of this Administration toward the NRA and its perceived omnipotence, helps Obama perpetuate the myth that the NRA’s five million, dues-paying members are but a front for a secretive and unaccountable “vast Right-wing conspiracy,” controlled by "the gun industry."
Obama's fantastical notions about the NRA would be laughable but for the fact that Obama's acerbic propaganda signals just how far removed he is from the sentiment of the nation, while providing him an excuse for why he must “go it alone” in forging anti-gun policies by non-legislative Executive Actions.
In reality, the only person Obama has to blame for a lack of “meaningful action” on gun crime, is himself. And, the facts lend no support to his efforts either.
Despite the heated rhetoric about gun crime following isolated mass shootings, for example, a 2014 audit of federal prosecutions shows a dramatic decrease in federal gun-crime prosecutions under Obama. Moreover, firearms investigations by Obama's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms also are in decline. Obama loves to explain away this drop in prosecutions of actual gun crime – such as straw man purchases, and possession of firearms by felons – as a matter of cuts to ATF funding forced on him by a hostile Republican Congress. However, it is his own Department of Justice that sets law enforcement and prosecutorial priorities for federal prosecutions -- including for firearms violations -- and, when it comes to taking violent criminals off the street, it simply has not been a priority for Obama.
In the words of one gun control historian at George Washington University commenting on shifting priorities at the Justice Department under Obama, “there’s more ideological cache harassing Bubba at the gun show than getting a handle on gun crime.” And, with the further confusion created by Obama’s recent Executive Actions about who needs a Federal Firearms License to sell a firearm, this harassment will only increase without any positive effect on gun violence.
It was always unlikely that, in his waning days as President, Obama would somehow come to terms with the reality about firearms ownership (up) and firearms crimes (down); or, that in the areas where he could have actually made a tangible impact on gun violence, Obama would finally take responsibility for failing because of his unwillingness to set aside politics and actually lead. So, while the Mainstream Media and the left-wing Blogosphere will gush over Obama’s "vacant seat" metaphor during his State of the Union, the only seat that really matters when it comes to protecting American citizens against individuals using guns with which to commit crimes, is the one behind the President's desk in the Oval Office.