"Thank you. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America." President Obama closed his Oval Office speech on Sunday evening with a typical refrain. What he said during the rest of the speech was pretty predictable, as well. In addressing the country about last week's shooting in San Bernardino, California, and his strategy for fighting ISIS, Obama encouraged Americans to be tolerant of other religions and reassured us that we will prevail in the war on terror.
Although Obama clearly declared that Wednesday's attack on a holiday party, which left 14 people dead and several others injured, "was an act of terror," he did not go so far as to connect the shooters with ISIS. In fact, he claimed there was no evidence that they were directly affiliated with a larger terrorist network. Still, the attack in San Bernardino has raised already-elevated concerns about the capacity for extremists to carry out attacks in the United States and the ability of would-be mass-shooters to buy weapons legally. On Sunday, the president addressed both of those concerns, as well as questions about how recent events would affect the course of the American campaign against ISIS.
The president's best moments from the night, though, didn't relate specifically to the issues at hand. Rather, they evoked familiar American values, seemingly in an effort to remind us to stay strong and to stay united.
"The Threat From Terrorism Is Real..."
"...but we will overcome it." Let's face it: The war on terror has become the new normal. It's the only war that many Americans alive today can remember. It's the war that some of our parents have fought, and it's the war that some of our peers will now fight. In a world where social media and other technologies allow radical terrorists to connect with each other and recruit followers from all over the world, the threat from terrorism has maybe never been more real. Obama was right to remind us war-on-terror-weary Americans of that — and he was right to remind us that we can still overcome it.
"What Could Possibly Be The Argument For..."
"...allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic weapon?" Good question, Mr. Obama. I'll raise you this: What could possibly be the argument for allowing anyone without a proper background check and the ability to meet certain requirements to buy a semiautomatic weapon? (Note: I am all for the Second Amendment, but the people who wrote that probably couldn't even fathom the idea of a semiautomatic weapon.) After any high-profile mass shooting, the political battle over gun control is renewed. On Sunday, Obama urged Congress to take action on gun control once and for all. Given past precedent, it's unlikely that will happen, but it's still something that needs to be talked about.
"We Cannot Turn Against One Another..."
"...by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam." Muslim Americans have faced unfair discrimination since at least 9/11, thanks to the mistaken belief that groups like ISIS represent true Islam. As the president made clear on Sunday, that's just not the case. The United States has always stood for religious freedom and tolerance — that shouldn't change because of a small minority's radicalism.
"Let's Not Forget That Freedom..."
"...is more powerful than fear." Sure, it's rhetoric — but it's the sort of rhetoric a president should be saying during a speech about terrorism. At this point, I feel confident in saying that Americans are tired of hearing about mass shootings within our borders and threats made against us by ISIS. They instill not only fear, but also weariness, and we could use some encouraging rhetoric at a time like this.
When it comes to fighting ISIS, the president said nothing dramatic will change in America's approach. Air strikes and training of foreign forces will continue, and a ground war will be avoided at all costs. When it comes to our approach on the home front, though, President Obama has urged Americans to stay true to common values, including tolerance and freedom. And that's a message that's worth saying again and again.