The killing of nine black worshipers at a church in South Carolina has compelled President Obama to look back with anger, then melancholy and finally some distance at the two most intractable issues he has faced as president: guns and race.
In the White House briefing room, at a fundraiser at the home of a movie star, before a roomful of the country’s mayors and in a garage in Pasadena, Calif., Obama has reflected not only on the Charleston shootings but also on the missed opportunities and unfinished business of his presidency.
“Increasingly, I’ve spent my time thinking about how do I try to break out of these old patterns that our politics have fallen into,” Obama said in Pasadena, where he recorded a podcast interview that was released Monday. He wondered how to have a normal conversation that’s “not this battle in a steel cage between one side and another.”
The pain laid bare by Charleston has led Obama to an unusually frank assessment of his presidency and an acknowledgment that he hasn’t been the unifying, transformational figure that many hoped he would be.
On Friday, he will travel to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston to deliver another eulogy, this time for a pastor who was one of the earliest supporters of the movement that in 2008 propelled Obama to the White House. That campaign’s most enthusiastic backers believed that a newly mobilized and enthusiastic citizenry could radically improve the nature of the political debate in Washington.
Just hours after the June 17 shootings in Charleston, Obama stood before the cameras in the White House briefing room and spoke mournfully of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the eight other parishioners killed during an evening Bible study.
Obama was thinking about the dead. But his frustration and disgust in that moment sprang just as much from the killing of 20 elementary school students in Connecticut three years earlier, his aides said.
Obama has described the Newtown massacre as the “worst day” of his presidency and Congress’s inability to pass gun control legislation as his most stinging defeat.