Obama’s press conference detailing his 23 executive orders designed to curb gun violence was an exercise in the worst excesses/lowest common denominator of political language, highlighted by putting a bunch of children front and center and reading excerpts from letters they wrote on why people who shoot people are mean. Nothing like letting your ideas speak for themselves free from crass manipulation. I’m surprised a staffer didn’t direct the kids to look directly into the camera and plead with the House of Representatives to make the world a safer place for their friends and family.
Parading a bunch of cute kids in front of the camera serves only to highlight how little the president believes in the power of his argument to sway the general public on its merits. And why should he? His entire approach is wrong.
Obama wants to implement laws based on prior events, but you can’t accurately predict the future based on the past because our perception of past events is filled with inaccurate and insufficient information. Everyone knows it’s a flawed process, and worse, the farther ahead we attempt to predict, the worse our guesses tend to fail. Passing laws to curb future behavior based on the vagaries of historical chance is, in a word, fraught with peril. The problem is we tend to take the big-picture tragedy of something like Sandy Hook and apply specific criteria to define it (gun violence and mental health) without considering the hundreds to thousands of other factors that were in play to bring about such a moment. The reality is we don’t know why it happened. No measure of hindsight will ever adequately explain it. It is a singular moment free from explanation. That is, in small part, what makes it so horrific.
Obama sort of understands this, maybe, but it seems he is incapable of following through because his language suffers from the delusion that he believes himself capable of doing good things without consequence, a fallacy not uncommon amongst the elite. And elite here is not some pathetic attack against the President in the same fashion as the NRA’s recent ad branding him a hypocrite, a thirty-second spot so jarringly infantile and unintentionally hilarious I vacillate between laughing out loud and rubbing my eyes in exhaustion when I watch it. Elite here is in reference to someone with an advanced degree and elevated station in public life. If Barack Obama isn’t a member of the elite, let’s retire the definition right now. Here’s the ad.
Anyway, in his speech before signing the executive orders he said, “Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.”
It’s hard not to sigh reading such words. It’s pandering of the worst sort, and it obscures reality, political and otherwise. Life might be sacred, but it’s hardly sacrosanct. I believe some Star Trek line about the good of the many outweighing the good of the few, or the one, comes to mind. Sure, reducing violence is good, saving life is good, sign me up for such bold, politically daring ideology, but the idea that we’ll do so without cost is asinine, which is precisely what ‘we’ve got to try’ is implying. The obligation of lawmakers is to strike a balance, not solve problems, and this massive cheap shot masquerading as press conference directed squarely at those who disagree with his policy objectives not only cheapens our discourse on guns, but obscures this larger reality.
Going beyond the political theatrics, it’s action undertaken for a general problem through the prism of a specific event, which is a terrible way to enact public policy. It’s attempting to solve a problem that has already passed. You can’t save the dead. It’s too late. Obama should stop insulting everyone by parading out their memory through children in an effort to implement an agenda that is, as all agendas are and can ever be, a best guess. It would be no different if the NRA allowed an eight-year old to hold up a photo of his elementary school and advocate for armed guards to protect it.
There are no solutions. It’s the wrong way to look at things. Nothing can be done to prevent unimaginable tragedies, because it’s impossible to predict the thousands of factors that go into such an event. Obama says as much and then goes on to argue we should try and do exactly that without any discussion of the consequences. There are always consequences. It’s the immutable law of our world, and the scariest part is that it’s impossible to know what they will be or the level of havoc they will wreak and entering laws into the world armed only with good intentions is akin to the idiot who brings the knife to a gunfight.
This idea of ‘we have to try’ as justification for policy simply because the issue at hand is deeply affecting is nonsense. It’s typical political rhetoric that underscores how obnoxious our dialogue has become, always delivered with the undeniable certainty of God that this position in the here and now is infallible and righteous. Tempering political language to reflect the realities of uncertainty, change, risk, choice and failure wouldn’t be a weakness, the exact opposite actually, but this seems a hopeless fantasy.
The implication from Obama with his ‘we’ve got to try’ is that by not passing the laws he wants we’re complicit in future gun violence. This is an infantile way to work for incremental change that may or may not help the situation and may or may not have residual damage that can’t be imagined. Politics as usual. Just once, I’d like to hear this:
“The situation stinks. There’s nothing we can do to solve the problem. We’ve got some smart people who have some ideas, but there’s no way to know if anything we do will make things better or worse, and all of us will be long gone from office by the time we do. So let’s make background checks more common and hope to high heaven it doesn’t come back to bite us in the ass. Now let’s all have a good, stiff drink. I’m buying.”