USA TODAY, January 12, 2016
First Lady’s box should be empty at State of the Union speech
by James Bovard
Saving seats for the dead would require a lot more room for victims of Obama’s policies.
The White House announced that there will be a seat left vacant in the gallery during Obama’s State of the Union Address “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.” This old stunt is part of Obama’s campaign for new federal restrictions on firearms ownership, but if he really wanted to provide a voice for those who’ve lost theirs, at least in part, due to his own administration’s policies, he’d have to empty all the seats in the gallery reserved for the first lady and her guests.
While trumpeting the private death toll from guns, Obama on Tuesday night will likely ignore the 986 people killed by police in the United States last year according to The Washington Post‘s database. Many police departments are aggressive — if not reckless — in part because the Justice Department always provides cover for them at the Supreme Court. Obama’s “Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way” to a Supreme Court hearing, The New York Times noted last year. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently said that federally-funded police agencies should not even be required to report the number of civilians they kill.
To add a Euro flair to the evening, Obama could drape tri-color flags on a few empty seats to commemorate the 42 medical staff, patients, and others slain last Oct. 3 when an American AC-130 gunship blasted a French Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan The U.S. military revised its story several times but admitted in November that the carnage was the result of “avoidable … human error.” Regrettably, that bureaucratic phrase lacks the power to resurrect victims.
No plans have been announced to designate a seat for Brian Terry, the U.S. Border Patrol agent killed in 2010. Guns found at the scene of Terry’s killing were linked to the Fast and Furious gunwalking operation masterminded by the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) agency. At least 150 Mexicans were also killed by guns illegally sent south of the border with ATF approval. The House of Representatives voted to hold then-attorney general Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to disclose Fast and Furious details, but Obama is not expected to dwell on this topic in his State of the Union address.
On a more festive note, why not save some seats for a wedding party? Twelve Yemenis who were celebrating nuptials on Dec. 12, 2013, won’t be able to attend Obama’s speech because they were blown to bits by a U.S. drone strike. The Yemeni government — which is heavily bankrolled by the U.S. government — paid more than a million dollars compensation to the survivors of innocent civilians killed and wounded in the attack.
Four seats could be left vacant for the Americans killed in the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya — U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith, and CIA contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty. But any such recognition would rankle the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton, who has worked tirelessly to sweep those corpses under the rug. It would also be appropriate to include a hat tip to the hundreds, likely thousands, of Libyans who have been killed in the civil war unleashed after the Obama administration bombed Libya to topple its ruler, Moammar Gadhafi.
Obama loves to salute promising young Americans but 16-year-old Abdulrahman Anwar al-Awlaki won’t get a chance to attend. That Denver-born boy was killed in a U.S. drone strike on Oct. 14, 2011, while he was in Yemen looking for his father (who was killed in a CIA drone strike two weeks earlier). If that kid’s name had been Bob, he might still be around to cheer Obama’s anti-gun crusade.
An indeterminate number of chairs could be left vacant for the Syrian and Iraqi women, children and men who have been beheaded, maimed or otherwise slaughtered as a result of the massive arms shipments the Obama administration provided to Syrian “moderate” rebel groups who defected to al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra or other terrorist groups, including the Islamic State. As Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., lamented in late 2014, “ISIS is armed to the teeth — with American equipment.” But Obama meant well, so we should just move along.
If the first lady sat alone among the other 28 seats the White House receives in the first lady’s box, it wouldn’t make room to represent the casualties of Obama administration policies at home and abroad, but it sure would send a different message to viewers at home.
James Bovard, author of Public Policy Hooligan, is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.
Jim, congratulations on this piece! This story is everywhere.
I’ll bet that more people read this story than bothered to watch the Obama TV Special.
I don’t know more people reading the story – but at least it is much shorter than Obama’s speech. I downloaded the text of his State of the Union spiel and was reading it while he was speaking so that I could receive a double dose of idealism.
Dang, if only I could have that much fun every Tuesday night.