Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Rare Event

Tonight at 7 (Central) we will witness something that has been a rare event in this presidency — an address to the nation from the Oval Office.

People can — and do — call Barack Obama many things, but one thing no one could call him is camera shy. He seldom hesitates to say what is on his mind (which is the very definition of loose cannon, is it not? But I digress ...) yet, in fact, this will be only the third time in nearly seven full years as president that he has spoken to the American people from the Oval Office.

It took an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to prompt the first one. The second was a victory lap after the short–lived departure of troops from Iraq — and now it is (presumably) to clarify his position on ISIS, a fully functioning and extremely threatening terrorist group that Obama has famously dismissed as "the jayvee team" and, more recently, as being "contained."

Both assessments have been demonstrably false.

Presidential addresses from the Oval Office were commonplace for every president I can remember prior to Obama — and I'm not speaking of the weekly five–minute radio addresses that are usually delivered from the Oval Office. An Oval Office speech was usually (but not always) a good indication that the subject was an important one and every American needed to hear what the president had to say about it. That wasn't always true, of course. Presidents from both parties misused the bully pulpit, and because the forum has been abused in the past, I can appreciate the notion that an Oval Office address should be reserved for truly significant moments and issues.

I really don't know if that is how Obama feels about it, but, whether it is or is not, the fact remains that, under Obama, the pendulum has swung much too far in the other direction. The American people have been left in the dark on too many important issues for too long. They are entitled to better than that from their leaders.

Obama's speech, of course, comes days after the horrific attack in San Bernardino, Calif., that killed 14. In the hours after that attack, Obama hemmed and hawed when asked whether it was terrorism even though his own FBI, which has followed the president's lead on terrorism in the past and hesitated to label such acts, was calling it terrorism within hours. says, "This is the first sign that the Obama White House is preparing to address the threat of terrorism seriously after appearing reluctant to define the attack in California as terrorism."

That's pretty generous. And, you must admit, it is remarkably fair, a virtual acceptance that White House spokesman Josh Earnest was correct when he said that, in addition to speaking about the shooting itself, "[t]he president will also discuss the broader threat of terrorism, including the nature of the threat, how it has evolved and how we will defeat it."

I already know about the nature of the threat — and, whether they will admit it or not, I think most Americans do, too — and how it has evolved. I need no presidential lectures on those.

Personally, I'm still waiting to hear the president call this what it is — Islamic terrorism. These acts are being carried out by Islamic extremists who have interpreted the Qur'an as permission from God to kill all who disagree with them. The president has yet to acknowledge this. He and Hillary Clinton insist on reminding us that Islam is a peaceful religion, and the United States is not at war with Islam.

That's a straw man.

No one (to my knowledge) has suggested that this is a religious war. It is a war against extremists who are hell–bent on killing others. They clearly don't care about the religious beliefs of their victims. Other Muslims have been killed in their attacks as well as Christians and Jews.

The fact that these extremists, these murderers all claim to be Muslims is an identifying trait. Some people will say that is profiling, and I suppose it is, but it is also a fact that cannot be ignored. It may be a regrettable fact of modern life that we must take a closer look at Muslims who try to enter this country. That doesn't necessarily mean that Muslims who live here are being or will be denied their right to freedom of religion.

Well, I guess I can't make a blanket assertion like that. Most assuredly, there will always be bigots for whom unpleasant but necessary restrictions on certain groups are nice little byproducts.

But that is one of the things about which we need to have a national — and rational — conversation. We may also need to talk about how and whether to monitor and have legal provisions for shutting down mosques or any similar facility where violence is encouraged.

I know. This kind of thing smacks of the Nuremburg Laws, doesn't it? But the key difference, it seems to me, is that the Jews of Germany and Europe were not hijacking airplanes, attacking diners in restaurants or shooting up Christmas parties.

To deal with a modern threat it is necessary for us to label the enemy.

Identifying the enemy is the first step in defeating it. Once Obama has done that, I will listen to what he has to say about defeating it.

Until then, I have no tolerance for useless drivel about closing gun show loopholes or issuing executive orders to make it even more difficult for Americans to arm themselves.

If someone is determined to kill — and the willingness, even eagerness, of these animals to kill themselves and leave orphaned children, even infants, behind in the process is pretty good evidence of just how determined they are — whatever is available will do. These terrorists do not need guns to kill. They share information about making bombs, and they are constantly experimenting with new ways to conceal explosives. They have used knives in the past when no other means for killing were available. No doubt they would resort to throwing rocks if that was all they had.

No, they don't need guns to kill, but they won't let a minor annoyance like a gun control law keep them from getting guns if they need them.

Instead of talking about closing gun show loopholes, we should be talking about closing the other loopholes that made the San Bernardino shootings possible. There is an enormous loophole along this country's borders. If Obama doesn't think there are terrorist "sleeper cells" all across this country whose members have practically waltzed across the border, he is truly living in a fantasy world.

Everyone wants to be fair on immigration. No one wants to deny the hope of citizenship to those who truly wish to come to America and co–exist with all kinds of people. But it only makes sense to have a process in place that safeguards the people who are already here from immigrants who, knowingly or unknowingly, threaten their safety.

In the Ellis Island days, that usually meant temporarily quarantining people who might have been exposed to a deadly disease. Today quarantining immigrants would be done with the intention of giving authorities enough time to do background checks.

And I'm not talking about the cursory background checks that have been conducted — if time and resources permitted them to be conducted at all — up to this point.

The time has long since past when we could keep terrorist cells out of this country or quarantine enough of the suspicious immigrants long enough for background checks to weed out the most dangerous ones.

For tonight's Oval Office address, as rare as they have been in Obama's tenure, to have any historical meaning, it must spark a serious discussion about the most effective way to keep the American people safe.

That doesn't mean belittling those who have dedicated their lives to being first responders when crisis strikes.

That doesn't mean letting political correctness overrule common sense.

It means being a leader. Under this president, who almost always leads from behind, being a true leader has been even more rare than Oval Office addresses.

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