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November 7, 2009
Obama's 'Delayed Empathy' over Fort Hood Massacre
This hasn't gotten half the play it should have and for good reason; President Obama's weird, off-putting introduction to his remarks about the Fort Hood massacre reveal him to be something of a cold fish.
Obama's shocking insensitivity was first noticed by Robert George writing in the president's home town TV news station WMAQ:
After news broke out of the shooting at the Fort Hood Army post in Texas, the nation watched in horror as the toll of dead and injured climbed. The White House was notified immediately and by late afternoon, word went out that the president would speak about the incident prior to a previously scheduled appearance. At about 5 p.m., cable stations went to the president. The situation called for not only his trademark eloquence, but also grace and perspective.
While the president's actual remarks about the tragedy were appropriately solemn and dignified, the introduction was painful to watch.
Here it is. You make up your own mind about how bizarre this is:
Ed Lasky adds:
Is it just me, or does anyone have a problem with a president that reaches out to tyrants of the world, and apologizes for all the sins he believes America has committed to them and their people (before his coronation) yet has nary any sympathy for American soldiers killed by a home-grown terror attack? Does he empathize and sympathize with foreigners who he believes were mistreated by America yet not empathize with our own American soldiers? Did the Teleprompter go on the fritz again?
Obama had a friendly smile for his good friend "Joe Medicine Crow" who he shockingly incorrectly identified as a Medal of Honor winner (Mr. Crow received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Obama last spring).
Even the Boston Globe found the president's initial tone disturbing:
Obama's initial remarks came shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday, while Americans were struggling to come to grips with the shocking rampage and its chaotic aftermath. The stage was set for the president to quickly and somberly address the tragedy. Instead, a serene-looking Obama offered light introductory comments, keyed to those attending a Tribal Nations Conference that was hosted by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. His introduction included a convivial "shout-out'' to one of the conference attendees.
The Globe has it right. In addition to all of his other hats, a president has another role; "Mourner in Chief." When national tragedies occur, the nation expects their president to articulate the grief they are feeling. They expect solemnity, gravity, eloquence, and a reassuring serenity from our chief executive so that we feel united as a nation in our grief.
Obama failed that test miserably. It was almost as if he couldn't scroll ahead on the teleprompter and get to the remarks he was going to make about Fort Hood immediately. He seemed trapped into making the remarks about the tribal conference because he didn't realize the importance of the "moment" - that slice of time where whatever a president says or does is magnified by events.
Think of Reagan after the Challenger disaster. His short televised address lifted up an entire nation, inspired us to continue reaching for the stars, while paying tribute in a gut wrenching, emotional way to the fallen astronauts.
At bottom, the speech told us that the president understood our distress, but insisted that the highest honor we could pay the dead is to continue their work. That is leadership.
Obama? Not so much.