Katie blogged this episode yesterday, in which President Obama made an active decision not only to politicize the funeral of five slain police officers with a strident gun control message, but to do so with the cartoonishly false claim that handguns are more readily available to teenagers than computers or books. It would be a challenge to improve upon Charles Cooke's instant reaction post at NRO -- but I'll at least endeavor to add to it in a moment. First, here's Cooke:
Did this little moment really serve to help [Obama's] cause? Twenty minutes ago, almost everyone I know thought that the president was doing a good job with his address. Now, at least half of them are irritated and upset. On Twitter, a debate over books and Glocks has broken out. People are shouting at one another. Where there was harmony, now there is discord. This, remember, was a funeral — a funeral for one of the police officers who was murdered last Thursday. It wasn’t a rally. It wasn’t a White House press conference. It wasn’t a public statement, hastily arranged on the airport tarmac. It was a funeral. Presumably, those attending had all sorts of political opinions. Presumably, some of the cops were Republicans. Presumably, there was some serious disagreement in that room as to how the country should move forward. Wouldn’t it have been better to wait until the proceedings were over to call for change? Wouldn’t it have been more politically effective for the president to have made his push somewhere else? Again, I am not suggesting that Obama should stay quiet on the matter in general. While I wish that he wouldn’t indulge in crass overstatements, he of course has every right to lobby for whatever alterations to the status quo he happens to covet. I’m just wondering who thought it would be a good idea to make such a nakedly divisive statement at a memorial service. Anyone?
Answer: Obama did, because he cannot help himself. Our arrogant and self-righteous president is immersed in legacy-building, emboldened by an improved approval rating that has no doubt been inflated by public perceptions and media coverage of this year's historically unpopular presumptive major party nominees. The truth is that Obama is a hardened ideologue, and always has been. His "purple America" coming out party in 2004 was a feel-good charade. His supposed policy 'pragmatism' has been routinely exposed as empty posturing, a fraud. He is a hyper-political, uber-partisan man of the Left, and he's intent on yanking the country in that direction as his political exit approaches. To that end, gun control has become something of an obsession. It also happens to be one of the few issues on which he's been consistently and almost completely thwarted by bipartisan opposition. As a result, he's decided to use his bully pulpit, and use it often, to try to move the needle in some meaningful way. He's run the calculus and determined that every horrible act perpetrated with a gun presents an opportunity to advocate gun control -- immediately and loudly. It's also fair to assume that he knew that a large online and on-air audience would be watching Tuesday's memorial service, and chose to exploit the platform. He reportedly crafted much of the speech - including, presumably, the ludicrous and self-discrediting gun lie -- himself.
Even if you agree with his policy prescriptions (I generally do not), and believe that his grief over gun violence is genuine (I do), you very well may concede that tramping down this rhetorical path, in this venue, was in poor taste and likely counter-productive. He surely understood this dynamic, too, but proceeded with his plan anyway. The man is not stupid; he's stubborn and incurably sanctimonious. Especially galling is the realization that if he'd wanted to pay heed to his convictions on guns in a less inflammatory way, options were available to him. For instance, "I've made my thoughts on gun policy reform quite clear in the aftermath of other mass shootings, which are all-too-frequent, and I will continue to do so moving forward. But that important and valid conversation is for another day. Today, we stand united in grief and abiding respect for the five police officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the protection and service of this community." But no. Instead, we got a throwaway line so cheap and inaccurate that even an sub-average social media troll may have harbored misgivings about employing it in a low-stakes flame war. The President of the United States had his priorities, however, and therefore indelibly sullied what had otherwise been an extraordinary and poignant address. (Relatedly, for the record, I am not as outraged over this passage from his remarks as other critics have been).
Many shaken Americans tuned in to the president's speech yearning to hear an uplifting, serious, and thoughtful tribute to the heroes who were murdered in cold blood because of their race and profession. Obama delivered on those hopes, until he didn't. Many tuned out angry, perhaps seething over how, say, an apolitical or right-leaning widow of one of the fallen officers may have felt watching a powerful politician use her late husband's funeral -- his funeral -- as an soapbox to promote a divisive and controversial political agenda. At the risk of seeming pettily partisan, I'll leave you with the words of an American president who properly understood the moment, intuited his appropriate role, and showed his successor how it's done: