When the massacre at Sandy Hook occurred three years ago, I went through my own personal sea change.
To this day I cannot shake the photos of those babies from my mind, class photos that captured these tiny miracles at the moment of their first blossoming. The parade of faces captured the heartbreaking pain of future promise shattered.
I saw my nephew in those faces, a boy who carries my hopes and expectations and immense love with him on his shoulders into his own classroom every morning. Today he is 7, the age of those little martyred ones. Then, he was 4 and all I wanted to do was run home and hold him tightly while blocking out the idea that children could be shot, point blank, and ripped from the world they’d only begun to explore.
Is there anything more painful than looking at the photo of a smiling child, days and weeks and years after that child’s sudden death? I can’t think of anything, and I have never lost a son or daughter. But you don’t need to have experienced that greatest tragedy in life to understand what it takes from you.
And that is why I understand why President Obama wept this week when he talked about the victims of Sandy Hook. It is why I believe those tears were real, and not conjured for a photo-op to advance a lame duck political agenda. It is why I know this most unemotional of men broke down, even briefly, in front of the cameras.
And it is why I was angered by the reaction from friends and fellow travelers on the conservative side who ridiculed him, or challenged the authenticity of his feelings, or piled on with analogies of other deaths Barack Obama had failed to sufficiently mourn.
I read social media posts telling me I was a naive fool to think that a man who presumably had no concern for the family of border agent Brian Terry could genuinely care about dead 7-year-olds. I was told that a man who allowed one of his ambassadors to be massacred in cold blood by jihadists could not empathize with the parents of Sandy Hook. I was warned not to fall for the dog and pony show served up for the anti-gun crowd.
Finally, I was bombarded with legal treatises as to why the President’s executive orders addressing gun control were either unconstitutional, unworkable or unnecessary because they duplicated much of what was already written into existing legislation.
I happen to agree that the executive orders will probably not hold up if challenged in a court of law, primarily because they invade the jurisdiction of Congress. But then again, I was wrong about the viability of his immigration initiatives last year, which are tied up in litigation, so I’m not an expert on the likely outcome for these new executive orders.
But that’s not what bothers me the most. People can take issue with the legality of an act. If they are running for office, like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, they can make statements about repealing those initiatives, and make the base happy.
That’s politics, and that’s fine.
What bothers me the most are the people who smugly come out and say that Barack Obama didn’t really mean it when he was crying about those dead babies, or that he should have cried for others, too.
This is not a zero sum game. And frankly, there is something special-horrifically so-about murdered 7-year-olds, or Amish school girls lined up and massacred by a deranged delivery man. Anyone who doesn’t cry about them is not human. Barack Obama, for whatever flaws he possesses (and I think he is greatly flawed,) is human. I believe his tears were genuine.
And suggesting otherwise says more about his critics than it does about him.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org