Obama: Guns and Poses

The rock star reception of Pope Francis in the Americas was not lost on Barack Obama. Though the president falls short of the pontiff’s popularity, he still gets a high by pontificating from the bully pulpit. But don’t expect him to be as conciliatory and gentle as His Holiness. Obama takes extreme pleasure in rhetorically skewering the GOP. Almost like clockwork, the horrifying events in Roseburg, Oregon provided him with the perfect lead-in to some seriously sanctimonious sermonizing.  

Rahm Emanuel raved that no crisis should go to waste. Obama does him one better by blaming all crises on the Republicans. So despite his distaste for White House press conferences, the president was more than eager last week to lecture us all on the true and perpetual villains behind America’s latest rampage involving guns.     

In a long-winded harangue that made me wonder where his once-lauded oratorical gifts had vanished, Obama held forth on the subject of gun control, one of his favorites along with birth control. While both of these hot-button issues concern the role of government, this administration’s policies toward them are totally at odds. The freedom to own a gun, for example, is something that liberals consider anathema. Many of them would put government in charge of canceling that right for all American civilians, in the belief that they cannot be trusted to act wisely.

On the other hand, liberals would remove government control entirely from the abortion equation, arguing that a woman has the “right” to do whatever she wants with or to her own body. The distinction, apparently, is that guns kill people, but abortions don’t, based on the view that a fetus is not a person.

Obama seems unaware of the contradiction. What he does recognize is that both issues energize important segments of his party’s base. And they are likely to excite them far more than, say, the Syrian crisis or the national debt limit. For this reason, he enjoys milking these social issues for all they’re politically worth, by putting the squeeze on Republicans as the culprits. 

The Oct. 2 White House press conference was tediously long. Obama has a tendency to meander through his answers, groping for suitable words, and swelling the time with “pregnant pauses ” in order to make his rhetoric sound thoughtful. He carefully modulates the quality and timing of his voice to “disarm” his listeners, even if the tone of self-deprecation sometimes comes across as holier-than-thou. His vocal timbre sounds intentionally weary when talking about the repetitious pattern of guns, victims, and crazed shooters, which, he warns us, continues only because Republicans refuse to stop it. 

Not surprisingly, while I was annoyed and bored by his remarks, others were moved. The following morning, one of my liberal friends wrote on Facebook that she is tired of people being “complacent” about such mayhem. By “people” she clearly meant Republicans. That is not to say I discourage a “national discussion” on this issue and others. But frank and fruitful dialogue is the farthest thing from Obama’s mind in this run-up to an election year. He prefers monologues in which he scapegoats Republicans in order to draw attention away from his abysmal failures in office.

To accomplish this, Obama is not above downright lying. The “Pinocchios” in his Oct 2 remarks were numerous enough to make tree-huggers shudder, if they weren’t so besotted. Claiming that states with the toughest gun laws have the fewest crimes is a total fabrication. We all know by now that his hometown of Chicago proves just the opposite. Connecticut has very strict firearms legislation, yet Sandy Hook happened. Still, Obama will say whatever it takes as long as the faithful take him at his word. 

It is Obama’s governing style to take credit for the good that happens, and take umbrage over the rest. He has turned the Republican takeover of Congress to his advantage in the blame-game of politics. And while he may be “all talk” in terms of accomplishments, his ability to verbally eviscerate Republicans should not be underestimated.

Ultimately, this president will face his lame-duck stretch in office, but until then he’ll try to soar to whatever heights possible. After all, he has a legacy to secure, one that would be greatly enhanced by having a Democratic successor. In all likelihood, Obama is jittery about Joe’s jumping in, Hillary’s fading out, and Bernie’s inability to win in a general election. The Democrats are floundering in muddy political waters and Obama cannot afford to let his legacy be washed away with them. 

Could it be that his outspoken truculence last week before the press corps signals a new phase in the president’s politicizing? During the 2014 election, he talked about how he wasn’t on the ballot, but really was. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t become more of an electioneering presence in the months to come. Whether he would be viewed as a pariah, like Bill Clinton was in Gore’s 2008 campaign, or as a savior, like Bill Clinton might be in his wife’s 2016 campaign, remains to be seen.