Thursday, July 26, 2012

Teletubbie Leadership

After the Twin Towers were destroyed, President Bush told us that we should go shopping. It was seen by many as a grotesquely inappropriate response to a national tragedy. Now, President Obama may have outdone him. When talking from the hospital in Aurora, Colorado, where victims of a horrific shooting in a movie theater were being treated, Obama spent ten minutes saying nothing at all about the issue of gun violence. The only ten minutes of television that I can ever recall seeing that had so little content was the children's show Teletubbies, which was aimed at kids who are so young that they haven't learned to talk.

The entire nation was waiting to hear what Obama would say about the violence that plagues our nation. He said nothing. To make sure that everyone understood that Obama was not simply waiting for another moment to announce how he would lead the government's response to the violence, White House spokespeople stated that Obama did not intend to do anything to change the law. He plans to leave in place the loopholes in our gun laws. He will allow virtually anyone to arm themselves, as the Aurora shooter did, with high-capacity, high-powered, rapid-firing, military-style weapons, bullet-proof apparel, smoke grenades, pump-action shotguns, and pistols. He will make no effort to make things better.

It wasn't surprising to see that Obama once again failed to lead. Nor was anyone surprised that Mr. Romney didn't say anything other than that it was too bad that so many people got shot. What was surprising, though, was that the pro-gun chorus was so quick to promote their philosophy that guns are good. They didn't pause for a moment to reflect or mourn or just show respect for those who are grieving. Immediately, they were filling up the airwaves and the Internet with their usual praises for instruments of death and people who use them. The gun-control advocates were also quick to respond, so although little new was said on either side, at least the conversation was not one-sided this time.

What we just witnessed was a business-as-usual response from our President, his political opponent, and people who are active on both sides of the gun violence issue. As far as they are all concerned, this was just another shooting. They know that there will be more, and they seem to think that we pretty much accept that this is the way life is these days.

What we don't know yet, though, is the extent to which, instead of becoming numb, the majority of the American people are becoming increasingly upset with the violence. I suspect that is what is happening, because I can't believe that people are unaffected when they hear the stories of the innocents who were slaughtered.

Almost everyone in America knows what the inside of a movie theater looks like. We can imagine ourselves sitting in the dark when shooting breaks out. We know what it is like to wait for our children to come home from the movies, and the anxiety we feel if they are late and we have not heard from them. Even more than we were able to picture what it was like to be trapped inside the Twin Towers, we are able to visualize a suburban theater parking lot as hundreds of people come running out screaming, some bleeding.

We were all able to identify with the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech shootings, and other recent shootings. Although we did not come together with one voice after these tragedies to demand an end to the violence and the guns, neither were we unaffected.

The polls can't tell us how close we are coming to the day when we will insist on a safer world in which to live. We don't even know that ourselves. But I believe that each shooting brings us closer to that day, because it is too depressing to believe that we will just continue to accept the mayhem.

When soldiers die, we are always told that they did not die in vain, no matter how pointless their mission was. We have no such viewpoint about the victims of the Colorado shooting. They lived however they lived, and they did not attend a Batman movie in order to further any cause. How we react to their shooting does not reflect on them. It does, however, say a lot about us. I hope we do not follow Obama's and Romney's examples and fail to respond to these shootings in a way that will prevent future shootings, because if we do, we will have lived in vain.

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