Search This Blog

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The President as Consoler

After the Connecticut massacre yesterday, an emotional President Obama made a statement on national television:

Other presidents have consoled the nation in times of grief:  Ronald Reagan after the Challenger disaster in 1986, Bill Clinton after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and George W. Bush after 9/11.   President Obama himself did so after the Tuscson shootings in 2011.

But Americans have not always expected their president to play this role.  On August 1, 1966, a disturbed ex-Marine murdered his wife and mother, then mounted a tower at the University of Texas at Austin, where he went on a shooting rampage that slew 14 more.  Although the killings happened in President Johnson's home state, he did go on live television to console the nation.  Instead, his press secretary read a brief statement calling for stricter control of firearms. (LBJ later repeated it for broadcast.)

The following year, the space program endured its first deaths in the line of duty. During a routine ground test on January 27, 1967, an Apollo spacecraft suddenly caught fire, killing astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee. The White House Press Office issued this statement: "Three valiant young men have given their lives in the Nation's service. We mourn this great loss. Our hearts go out to their families."  That was it:  the president did not make an address to the nation, though he did attend funeral services.