President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden revived the emotional impact of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre of 20 children to boost their campaign against “gun violence” — and also to portray Democratic politicians as the best guardians of the nation’s vulnerable children.
“These are our kids … what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country,” he said, likely aiming his pitch at swing-voting suburban mothers who could be critical to a Democratic success in the 2014 midterm election.
“This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe. This is how we will be judged. And their voices should compel us to change,” he declared while being flanked by children.
Obama also quoted letters from children, described a picture drawn by a seven-year-old girl killed in Newtown, and pushed for a series of new government powers, roles and spending.
He called for new curbs on gun sales and for an expansion of psychiatric oversight of teenagers, a federal ban on guns that resemble military weapons and a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Obama also called on Congress to expand background checks to anyone buying a gun.
“From a political standpoint, [the event was] designed to seize the moment and ride on the moral high ground” to win a federal victory before public opinion reverts to its normal preference for local and individual solutions, said Michael Franc, the vice president for government studies at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
The careful use of emotional messages likely will hinder government from devising beneficial measures, he said, but it reflects the techniques learned by Obama while working as a community organizer in Chicago, he said.
“It is his style. … It is probably the Saul Alinsky model applied to a mass murder,” said Franc. “In their heart of hearts, they do think this is going to work,” he said.
But more than 500 people were killed during 2012 in gang disputes and other fights in Obama’s adopted hometown of Chicago, which is dominated by progressive politicians and lobbies. That toll has made his city the nation’s murder capital.
Obama and his allies also think the Newtown issue is so influential, especially for the 2014 midterm election, that they discarded their prior plans to use the week to highlight the themes in Obama’s pending Jan. 20 inauguration, Franc said.
To counter Obama’s emotional pitch, Franc said GOP leaders should use female legislators to show a positive message about how children are best protected and boosted by conservatives’ practices and ideas, such as good character, strong families, self-organizing communities, gun rights and a small federal government.
In contrast, defensive denunciations by lobbyists against federal gun-curbs will have less ability to counter Obama’s emotional pitch, even if the denunciations are valid, he said. Conservatives would be wiser to arrange TV events that showcase women who used their own guns to stop murderers, he said.
After Obama’s event, the National Rifle Association replied with a moderate, non-confrontational reply that focused on the emotional issue of children’s safety. “The NRA will continue to focus on keeping our children safe and securing our schools, fixing our broken mental health system, and prosecuting violent criminals to the fullest extent of the law. We look forward to working with Congress on a bi-partisan basis to find real solutions to protecting America’s most valuable asset – our children,” it said.
Except for one measure, neither Obama nor Biden supported any changes would help individuals, families, communities or states develop their own solutions to the particular type of gun violence they face.
Obama and Biden ignored conservatives’ requests for federal support of marriage and of school choice, both of which help parents raise their children. Similarly, Obama ignored calls for recognition of non-government guards, such as trained civilians who carry their own pistols.
Progressives generally reject policies that promote the roles of individuals, families, communities or states, said Franc. Instead, their instinct is to run towards programs controlled by government at the national level, he said.
Indeed, Obama’s carefully crafted speech actually tried to portray government curbs on constitutional rights as a support for constitutional rights of religion and free assembly. “That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness … were denied to college students at Virginia Tech,” he announced.
In one concession to conservatives, Obama backed federal funding for several hundred state-hired school guards. That proposal gets majority support in polls, but Obama’s support was grudging. He described the armed guards vaguely as “resource officers,” and said the support was for schools that wanted to accept the option.
Obama distanced himself from calls to stigmatize violence in movies and video games. That stigmatization is strongly opposed by his donors and allies in Hollywood and the video game industry.
Instead, he urged Congress to fund studies into the impact of video violence. However, his administration includes several research agencies that have the money and authority to launch such research without permission from Congress.
Obama’s message was repeatedly wrapped in an emotional pitch that compared Democrats’ heartfelt support for innocent children.
“We have to examine ourselves and our hearts,” Obama said while describing his government-centered proposals.
He suggested that the government should adopt an uncompromising agenda, saying “if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this senseless violence, if there even one life that can be saved, we have an obligation to try.”
In contrast, he dismissed the people who oppose his and Biden’s proposals as selfish and conspiratorial.
“There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves,” he claimed. “Behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.”
The public should ask legislators opposed to his proposals, he said, “Ask them what’s more important — doing whatever it takes to get a A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?”
“I’ve no illusions about what we up against … but I’ve also never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken,” Biden claimed. “The world has changed.”