The Obama Presidency
President Obama comforts North Point Marina owner, Donna Vanzant, while touring damage from Hurricane Sandy in Brigantine, NJ (Pete Souza/Official White House Photo)
American Presidents have traditionally assumed the role of consoling the nation in times of crisis and tragedy. But as the first African American President, serving during a contentious and polarized decade, Barack Obama's efforts to offer comfort and guidance were among the most controversial aspects of his time in office. While many were deeply moved by his speeches calling for unity and reform, his opponents accused him of overstepping his role and using the tragedies for political gain. Over twenty times, Obama made an appearance following a mass shooting, an epidemic of violence that stirred bitter debate over gun control and "homegrown" terrorism. The President often used this platform to push for new regulations meant to restrict firearm sales, triggering a backlash from gun rights advocates. Among the most emotional of these speeches was the one Obama gave following the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, massacre in 2012. Abandoning his usual oratory, the President broke down in tears. "Every time I think about those kids — it gets me mad," he said. That same year, Obama toured the damage in New York and New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy, a move that even drew the praise of frequent critic Governor Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican. Throughout these appearances, a persistent theme emerges: Obama, as the living embodiment of the American dream, calls on his fellow citizens to use these tragedies, and the inherent goodness of the country, as motivation to move forward.