By Robert Schlesinger |
President Obama's State of the Union gun control rhetoric will fail to compel Congress to pass his "now is the time" plan to reduce gun violence. Rather, the words he used showed concession to the reality of American gun politics. Second Amendment advocates have already won the debate.
The president's rhetoric was emotionally moving. He showed skillful use of the rhetorical technique of antistrophe. His repetitive use of the phrase "they deserve a vote…" moved the crowd to standing ovation, and engaged the shooting victims' families seated in the chamber. Those people are the real faces behind what may otherwise be perceived by most of the public as existential tragedies. If our representatives deliberate the president's plan, those faces will be in their thoughts.
But as much as the president succeeded in emphasizing the human cost of gun violence, "they deserve a vote" does nothing to push Congress to make his proposals law. "They deserve a vote" concedes that the president doesn't believe he'll win this battle. That strong commitment he so forcefully mustered a few weeks ago when he signed his gun control executive orders has dissipated. "They deserve a vote" makes the vote the goal, not passage. If the president is indeed committed to navigating the hard road ahead, his command should have been "pass this law."
President Obama's vacillation, however, should not surprise the public. He often tones down his early tough talk once all the bumps and potholes loom into view. At that point, the president moderates, subtly cues the public to his change of course, or cedes his position at the last minute of negotiations. Last night's speech, and last week's release of a photo of Obama skeet shooting at Camp David are two good signs that the president is in the process of repeating his pattern again.
About Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Lara Brown Author of 'Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants'