Then, just another few months later, 26 innocents—including 20 kids, mostly first graders—were killed in a hail of gunfire in Newtown, Connecticut. Heartbroken on what he later called the “worst day” of his presidency, Obama confessed, “I react not as a president but as anybody else would—as a parent.”
That day was the first time many Americans saw tears from the president. He explained them a few days later when he traveled to Newtown for a memorial prayer vigil: “Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves, our child is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice, and every parent knows there’s nothing we will not to do shield our children from harm. And yet we also know ... that we can’t always be there for them.”
It was an amazing profession of vulnerability and helplessness from the man who commands the world’s largest army and controls the world’s deadliest arsenal.
His first piece of advice after the news broke in Newtown was to every other parent in America, urging them to “hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them.” Then came the proposed legislation, the fruitless clash with the gun lobby, the vice presidential study commission, and the first wave of executive orders.
He had gone from his worst day to his most frustrating day when Congress rejected his gun proposals. “There is perhaps no issue where our divided politics has frustrated President Obama more than our nation’s gun violence,” said his senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, speaking to reporters Monday evening. Jarrett talked movingly of being with the president when he learned of mass shootings and attended funerals for the victims. In her view, that is what motivates the president to try to do more about the epidemic of violence, contending, “The human fabric that knits together the communities that have been affected is tattered and deeply scarred.”
The immediate reaction leaves no doubt that Republicans who control both chambers of Congress have a decidedly different reaction to the violence and the bloodshed at schools, theaters, college campuses, and churches across the nation. Even before the president’s tears had dried, they were accusing him of trying to subvert the Second Amendment and thwart the right to self-protection. Republican strategist John Feehery, in a tweet, declared Obama’s announcement the “best example of public policy trolling in history.” This reflects the widespread belief among Republicans that Obama knows he cannot succeed on this issue and is merely trying to rile them.
That is why so many see more than parental concern and more than anguish behind the latest White House push for what aides call “common-sense reforms.” As always, there are political ramifications—as quickly seen when the Democratic presidential candidates hailed Obama’s announcement and Republican candidates condemned it.