On Monday, while the death toll mounted at the Navy Yard, President Barack Obama delivered a strident partisan tirade against Republicans, using the fifth anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse to score political points ahead of the debt ceiling debate. It was an appalling act of division and insensitivity, and unlike George W. Bush’s My Pet Goat moment on 9/11, it was a calculated abdication of leadership.
It was also an act that places Obama’s passivity during the Benghazi attacks–and his decision to fly to Las Vegas the next day for a campaign fundraiser–in perspective. This is a president who, even as Navy Seals approached Osama bin Laden’s hideout, retired to play cards with his pals. The image is of a man with little regard for the lives of Americans in “his” military, or their families, beyond their use as campaign props.
In addition, President Obama–like it or not–leads the entire nation, not just the majority that voted him into office. In moments of terror and tragedy, his job is to bring the American people together, not to split us apart. Conservatives have been willing–eager, even–to embrace Obama on such occasions, as many did after his speech at the memorial for the Tuscon victims in 2011. Yesterday, he foreclosed any such reconciliation.
What we are seeing is partly the result of Obama’s political foundation as a community organizer–there is never a crisis to waste, so to speak, in stirring up your core supporters against their contrived opponents. But even Alinsky, who had enough sense to criticize those who called police “pigs,” would have counseled against Obama’s speech yesterday, which could not have brought more benefit than harm to his cause.
Yes, Obama did begin by acknowledging the Navy Yard attacks. That is, at least, an improvement from how he reacted to the Ford Hood shooting in 2009, which he only mentioned after several “shout-outs” to his supporters in the audience.
Yet the speech itself should have been canceled, or postponed. The fact that the White House never even considered that option shows how out of touch Obama is with his basic duties.
A story comes to mind, told by a friend in Chicago who met Obama during his obscure State Senate years. Obama was at a local function for medical professionals, and my friend, having just met the Senator from Hyde Park, tried to introduce him to a friend from the same neighborhood. In the nervous rush of the moment, he forgot that friend’s name. “Well, I guess he isn’t your friend, is he,” Obama deadpanned.
Obama then presented his business card, said, “You’ll be hearing about me,” turned, and left, leaving the two men in shock at his rudeness.
That’s the real Obama–the one slowly emerging in presidential biographies now that he is safely ensconced in a second term, the one who drops even the most loyal aides when he feels they are no longer of use to him, the man capable of relating to large crowds but not concrete human beings.
Speaker of the House John Boehner said that Obama’s speech was a “shame.” Charles Krauthammer said that it was in “extremely bad taste.” It was worse than that. It was an insult to the victims and their families, a slap in the face to the nation as a whole, a dereliction of the simplest duty of empathy and discretion. He may apologize–he ought to–but what Obama revealed about himself in that moment can never be undone.