Sunday, December 16, 2012
President Obama's speech at Newtown tonight, which makes an unexpected pivot from consoling the victims of tragedy to calling for action at a national level to try to prevent these kinds of violent incidents, is already being compared to Lyndon Johnson's speech after the Selma tragedy, in which he called for passage of the Voting Rights Act. What makes these incidents similar is that both caused people to say, "Enough is enough. We have to do something to solve this problem." The difference is that back then, we had a better idea of what we needed to do. We had a piece of legislation on the table; we just needed the will to pass it.
So this time it was right for the president not to propose any specific measures yet. Instead, he invited the public to begin a dialogue on appropriate responses, and challenged defeatists who doubt that anything effective can be done. President Obama is not claiming to have all the answers, but is expecting us to rise to the challenge. He's clearly heartbroken at repeatedly having to appear at these kinds of events.
The right way to begin a constructive dialogue is to stay open to all good faith suggestions, and to try to avoid the kind of reflexive opposition to anything suggested by opposing parties that represents politics as usual.