By NICK CHILES
“They deserve a vote.”
With those words, repeated over and over as he introduced victims of gun violence during his State of the Union, President Obama last night brought the full brunt of his grand rhetoric to make the case why the nation must take action right now to protect our children. Why Congress must vote on the proposals that will make a difference, such as mandatory background checks and getting weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets.
“What I’ve said tonight matters little if we don’t come together to protect our most precious resource – our children,” the president said.
He powerfully pointed out that in the two months since 20 first graders were massacred in Newtown, CT, more than a thousand Americans have been killed by gun violence.
“One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton,” he said. “She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.”
“Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote. They deserve a vote.
Obama went on to list other victims of gun violence who deserve a vote, as the chamber stood and cheered.
“Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.”
“The families of Newtown deserve a vote.”
“The families of Aurora deserve a vote.”
“The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote.”
With the camera zoomed in on Hadiya’s parents, who sat next to fellow Chicagoan Michelle Obama, the pain on their faces was evident—surely reflecting the pain in their hearts. But as the president used the emotion of a child’s death to make his point, the man behind him was not moved—House Speaker John Boehner. Apparently Boehner had no interest in taming this nation’s gun craze. As the country and the chamber applauded wildly, Boehner had no reaction. Nothing.
The message from him seemed clear—they are not going to get a vote.
“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” the president said. “Indeed, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect…We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.”
In addition to his emotional appeal for Congress to vote on gun control, perhaps more than he ever has before, President Obama used his fifth State of the Union address last night to call for more action to help the nation’s children and to lift the nation’s poor. With announcements about initiatives to provide preschool education for every child who needs and more of a focus on technical education for high school students, the president brought more attention to the needs of the poor than he has maybe during his entire first term. Even his proposal to raise the minimum wage to $9 is, in the end, about children.
“Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty, and raise the federal minimum wage to $9.00 an hour,” the president said.
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