The tears of a president. What are they worth? What do they matter?
Barack Obama twice wiped away the tears that streaked down his face Tuesday as he spoke about the victims of gun violence in America.
He spoke of Sandy Hook, where 20 small children went to school Dec. 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, and never came home. They were all 6 or 7. Their bodies were riddled by semi-automatic fire from a Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle.
The shooter was 20. He had gotten the gun from the arsenal his mother kept in their upscale home in their safe community. He had known mental problems. But his mother felt that going target shooting with her son was a good way to “bond” with him and better than psychiatric treatment. He killed her shortly before he killed the children and six adults at Sandy Hook.
Why? Why not? This is America.
You feel blue or you get angry or you get drunk or you take drugs or you get driven by the demons speaking to you from inside your skull, and you grab a gun.
“The United States of America is not the only country on earth with violent or dangerous people,” the president said Tuesday. “We are not inherently more prone to violence. But we are the only advanced country on earth that sees this kind of mass violence erupt with this kind of frequency.”
Why? Guns are easy to get in America. That’s it. That’s the reason.
Adults get slaughtered and kids get massacred, and politicians say let’s not “politicize” the tragedy by talking about it, let alone doing anything about it.
We must protect the Second Amendment, the politicians say, but what they really want to protect are the fat checks they get from the National Rifle Association.
“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” the president said Tuesday, wiping away one tear.
“And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day,” he said, wiping away another.
But it’s not about the numbers anymore. It is about the numbness.
It’s difficult to keep the mass shootings straight. Columbine, Binghamton, Aurora, Blacksburg, Charleston, Roseburg, Fort Hood, the Washington Navy Yard, San Bernardino.
Keep them straight? We can barely remember them. And there are others — many, many others.
Obama spoke for 36 minutes. His first applause line came when he said he was speaking “not to debate the last mass shooting but to do something to try to prevent the next one.”
So what are you going to do about that, Mr. President? We have heard your fine words before.
I remember a nighttime speech in late July 2012 in Aurora, Colorado, after more than 80 people had been shot at a movie theater. Obama looked haggard that night. He stood before the cameras in a blue suit and white shirt, tieless, collar open. There was the beginning of stubble on his chin.
“Scripture says that (God) ‘will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,'” Obama said.
And then, a few minutes later, Obama put his hand to his throat to mark the spot where a teenager had been shot in the neck and killed by a bullet. Obama let his fingers linger there as he kept talking.
As I wrote at the time, “it was wrenching, touching, dramatic, sincere. And baloney.”
It was not baloney in the sense that Obama did not genuinely feel for the victims and their families. He did. But it was baloney that, in an election year, he was going to try to do a lot about it.
His press secretary at the time, Jay Carney, had just told reporters aboard Air Force One that Obama “believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights” and “ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.”
Existing law? Wasn’t it kind of obvious that existing law was painfully inadequate to protect people from being shot to death at a movie?
But it was an election year — a year of baloney.
As Obama said Tuesday, however, he’s “not on the ballot again.” He’s “not looking to score some points.”
What he is trying to do, he said, is to create in his last year in office “a sense of urgency.”
The president is thoroughly sick of Congress and the politicians on Capitol Hill who have gone there not just to do nothing but to prevent others from doing anything.
So the president will act on his own. He will implement a set of modest executive actions to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, some of whom are forbidden to board planes but allowed to buy guns.
Almost all of the Republicans running for president have rushed to say that if they were elected, they would reverse Obama’s actions. The Democrats running all have plans to keep guns out of the hands of the violent.
So this year’s presidential election offers a clear difference, a clear choice.
Sadly, time is on the Democrats’ side. I say sadly because it is hard to believe that between now and Election Day we will not have more mass shootings, more preventable deaths, more avertible tragedy.
“The gun lobby may be holding Congress hostage right now, but they cannot hold America hostage,” Obama said. “We maybe can’t save everybody, but we can save some.”
The president is trying to save some. Your vote is an opportunity to save more. And it is better than just shedding a tear.
Follow Roger Simon on Twitter: Follow @politicoroger