Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama every day, but at this moment it seems as if a lot of people would like to get his attention.
Dear Mr. President,
Whenever a mass shooting plagues our nation, as has happened in Connecticut, the response in D.C. is predictable. Lawmakers appear before microphones making grand declarations about how we can’t tolerate the status quo anymore. They call for special committees to look into gun laws, violent TV shows, drugs, and mental health. They offer their condolences and declare that this time something will change.
And nothing substantial ever does. A week passes and the fury wanes. A month passes and the blanket of bureaucracy settles. And a year or two later another heartbreaking tragedy unfolds to restart the whole cycle.
As much as it may not be popular to say so, I see good and bad in that.
If our government responded instantly to every outrage we would probably wind up with a slew of ill-considered laws formed in reactionary times. Like a reckless driver swerving down the road, we would change course unpredictably which could be bad for business, bad for society, and bad for justice. Laws should reflect the will of the people, but not the whims. Indeed, it is possible, if not probable, that’d we would be more unhappy with an overly active government than we are with one that remains locked in a stalemate much of the time.
Conversely, however, many reasonable voters are rightly concerned that politicians too often take the easy way out of addressing serious matters. Too many of our officials praise citizens who risk their lives for others, but those same leaders won’t even risk their jobs. They buy too quickly into the idea that more study is needed for any problem, because that is hard to argue with, even when it is just a delaying tactic. And in the end, elected leaders call for commissions because that is politically a lot safer than calling for a vote.
So where should we be at a time like this? I won’t offer any opinion on what ought or ought not happen in terms of the law in the wake of this horrible event in Connecticut. But I will say this: Amid all the calls for something to be done, I suspect that somewhere between acting rashly or not at all is where leadership lives. It is not wrong for elected officials to use a galvanizing event to engage a difficult issue, but then they must stick with it through the hard, politically dangerous months and years ahead. When the studies are done, the commissioners have issued their reports, and importantly…the voters have grown bored and are no longer clamoring for action…that is when true leaders must continue going about the work of true leadership. They must go where the facts lead them, and then press for real, thoughtful, considered action, even if doing so risks failure in the next election.
Hope all is well.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with