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PD Editorial: Obama saves most dramatic, best for last

Vice President Joe Biden applauds as President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address.

CHARLES DHARAPAK / Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.

President Barack Obama used his fifth State of the Union address to present a comprehensive and ambitious vision of what he hopes to accomplish in this second term. His broad-brush portrait of the future includes immigration reform, tax reform and entitlement reform as well as proposals for bolstering the economy and breaking a stalemate in Congress over draconian across-the-board spending cuts that are fast approaching.

But the most dramatic moments in his speech were saved for last.

The first was his announcement that during the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan.

“This draw-down will continue,” he said. “And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

Then came his appeal for Congress to increase government capacity to defend itself against cyber-terrorism.

“Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air traffic control systems,” he said. “We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.”

But the most memorable portion of the address came near the conclusion in what was an apparent ad-lib moment. In his prepared text, the president was to have made reference to the victims and families of victims of gun violence, particularly those from Newtown, Conn., in appealing for strengthening gun-control laws. This was to be followed by a single call that “they deserve a vote.”

But in what is likely to become the defining moment of his speech, he repeated it four times, sending his supporters into a clapping frenzy.

“They deserve a vote,” he said. “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.”

Of course, they deserve more than a vote. They deserve legislation — the kind the Obama administration has already put forward in calling for universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and rules that block the sale of guns to criminals.

North Coast Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, the chairman of the Democrats’ Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, has put forth similar proposals.

But the president’s remarks were in veiled reference to the threat that pro-gun Republicans and special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association may prevent these proposals from even reaching a floor vote.

The president’s repeated appeal was out of character for a State of the Union address, but it captured the exasperation of many Americans who are weary of the gun violence and the NRA-dominated influence in Washington that prevents any meaningful change. It’s time to move on.

“Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” he 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 make what difference we can ...”

It’s a point worth remembering because it’s now been two months since the massacre at Newtown, and, at least on Capitol Hill, there’s been no change. Lawmakers have made no difference.

America deserves a vote.

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