'For God's sake': Joe Biden and the Texas tragedy
For God's sake, Mister President, don't turn this tragedy into cheap political capital.
I just watched President Joe Biden take a stab at playing the role of America's "mourner in chief," a role his Democrat predecessor, Bill Clinton, managed quite well. That may, in fact, have been the only thing Clinton did that actually helped the country. For all his many failings, Clinton knew the importance of helping people cope with tragedy.
Unfortunately, Joe Biden didn't crib this page from Bill Clinton's playbook. He made it partisan fairly quickly, blaming the tragedy on the "gun lobby" and "gun manufacturers."
Yet he started out well. As a man who's lost two children, he has earned the right to let America know what the parents of those precious children must be feeling and, in doing so, give us moral guidance as we all come to terms with this most senseless of tragedies. As a man who has lost a child — and my son's mother — to two different and senseless tragedies, I deeply appreciate this role as taken by presidents of both parties, men who know how to help those suffering from a loss they can never overcome.
After that, it became a political stump speech:
"When in God's name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?" he demanded. "When in God's name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?"
Ten times he named God in a seven-minute speech. In seven of those, he called on God's name in what could easily be taken as an epithet. For example: "What in God's name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?" Energetically, passionately, he threw this out, as if challenging God for the answer. Then, making this situation worse, he had to make a joke of it. "Deer aren't running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God's sake."
Children had just died, yet he spent his brief talk questioning the value of a kind of firearm that may have had nothing to do with the shooting.
Until he uttered this, nobody knew for sure what kind of weapon had been used, and millions may now presume that this shooting was accomplished by a weapon that has become a symbol and stalking horse of the anti-gun lobby. So far, what we do know seems to challenge Biden's politically motivated assumption. Texas governor Greg Abbott reported that the shooter "entered the school with a handgun and possibly a rifle." The governor said nothing about an assault weapon, and he is in the position to know.
I wish I'd been able to offer him the following advice before he trashed what had been an excellent, truly helpful beginning to his short speech: "Never, Mister President," I would have told him, "should you use the name of God to create political capital, nor should you quote the Bible to pass a controversial but 'feel good' law that won't actually prevent violence. And never, not ever, should you leverage a senseless human tragedy to enhance your political power."
Having held senior state-level positions in three presidential campaigns, and having written speeches for two state governors, that is what I would have advised this president.
But how could I? Would he have listened? More important, why didn't at least one of his advisers tell him that invoking God's name for crass political purposes — even while the survivors are stunned, vulnerable, as they watch their worlds crumple — makes no sense at all? Either there was no one there to advise him, or at least no one he'd listen to.
Tragedies are non-partisan. Presidents Reagan and Clinton both understood this. They each rose to the occasion whenever the nation was confronted with tragedy. They understood that leadership is not just about action, but about functioning as a moral leader. When the nation was hurting, they found the words — from their souls or from their Teleprompters — to help America put sudden tragedy in perspective.
Joe Biden, however, lives in a world where Rahm Emanuel — not Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton — sets the rules: "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." Those are words that, if his performance today is any indicator, Biden can not only live with, but live by as well.
This murderous rampage is horrific on the face of it. Having been in the same awful place as the parents of those children now lost forever, having lost my own school-age son, I can guess what those poor parents are feeling. Sadly, Joe Biden — from firsthand experience — knows this as well. He should know better.
We are well advised to call on God, by whatever name we worship Him, to find answers and — more importantly — to find comfort, for ourselves and for those grieving families. Sadly, the man most responsible for helping America to grieve, to mourn and to heal, wasn't man enough to embrace this role.
Ned Barnett is a conservative political strategist, a gifted speechwriter, a journalist, and a man who's lost both a child and a wife to senseless, sudden violence. He is currently a writer — with thirty-nine books published and several new ones in the works. He also works with other authors as a ghostwriter, an editor, a writing coach, and a book publicist. Based in southern Nevada, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 702-561-1167.
Image: Screen shot from CNBC video via YouTube.