Obama’s delayed empathy
"IN TIMES of national tragedy, Americans expect their president to capture the mood and moment with the right blend of emotion, empathy, and urgency. It’s a delicate act of timing and tone. And President Obama, despite his eloquence and dignity, has yet to master it, as illustrated by his awkward response to the deadly shootings at the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas.
Obama’s initial remarks came shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday, while Americans were struggling to come to grips with the shocking rampage and its chaotic aftermath. The stage was set for the president to quickly and somberly address the tragedy. Instead, a serene-looking Obama offered light introductory comments, keyed to those attending a Tribal Nations Conference that was hosted by the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. His introduction included a convivial “shout-out’’ to one of the conference attendees.
Several minutes in, Obama finally called the Fort Hood shootings “a horrific outburst of violence.’’ The words he spoke next were respectful and appropriate. But it took him too long to get to the point of delivering them.
It takes more than scripted eloquence for presidents to connect with their fellow Americans. It requires a visceral ability to grasp the scope of tragedy, calculate its impact on the national psyche, and react swiftly to it. Ronald Reagan did it after the Challenger explosion took the lives of seven crew members on Jan. 28, 1986. So did Bill Clinton, after the Oklahoma City bombings of April 19, 1995, left 168 dead and more than 600 injured.When a gunman fired those shots at Fort Hood, the country immediately felt the pain. Obama missed the first moment to show he understood just how much it hurt."
The editorial can be found here.