Why President Obama’s Fed Up with “Thoughts & Prayers”

Obama talks a lot about "thoughts and prayers" following mass shootings, but the context is now drastically different

Obama was a 'Thoughts & Prayers' fan, but he's changed his tune. — REUTERS
Dec 03, 2015 at 1:38 PM ET

President Obama mentions “thoughts and prayers” as often as his Republican counterparts do in the wake of a mass shooting, but has fundamentally changed how he uses the phrase in 2015.

Obama has commented on 15 mass shootings since he was elected president in 2008, but since the start of 2015 his references to “thoughts and prayers” have said how the phrase represents empty, insufficient rhetoric unless it is backed up with action.

Obama offered up “thoughts and prayers” in eight out of 10 statements he made following mass shootings prior to 2015, each time mentioning the phrase in the context of providing support for the victims and their loved ones—in identical fashion to the Republicans who were slammed for doing so on Wednesday night.

Following the shooting at a Jewish community center in Kansas on April 13, 2014, in which three died, he said: “Michelle and I offer our thoughts and prayers to the families and friends who lost a loved one and everyone affected by this tragedy.” After the Aurora movie theater shooting on July 20, 2012, where 12 died, he said: “All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers.”

The president has been making similar statements as far back as 2009. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton,” Obama stated after 13 were killed at an American Civic Association immigration center in Binghamton, New York on April 3, 2009.

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2015 has been different. The president used the phrase in three statements this year, and each time, he insisted that such platitudes are no longer sufficient. “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said in the aftermath of the Umpqua Community College in Oregon on October 1, during which nine people died.

After the Planned Parenthood Shooting in Colorado November 28, in which three were shot dead, he said: “If we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience, then we have to do something.” After the Charleston, South Carolina shooting on June 18, in which nine died, he said: “To say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough.”

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Vocativ’s analysis reveals a general shift in Obama’s tone when it comes to mass shootings, away from comforting presidential platitudes towards overt frustration at the lack of action to stop the shootings. As his statements became more defiant and emotionally charged, Obama mentioned Michelle Obama, and the words “shock” and “sad” less. He name-checked the first lady in his first two statements in 2015, but she went unmentioned in most recent three statements, including in yesterday’s statement about the San Bernardino, California shooting.

He has only used the word “sad” once this year, and hasn’t used the word “shock” since he commented on the Aurora movie theater shooting. In fact, he’s warned at how disturbing it is that these events now fail to shock us, saying: “This is not normal.  We can’t let it become normal.”  As he has started to take a personal stand, Obama mentioned “gun safety” and “terror” for the first time in his statement on the Umpqua Community College shooting in October, and mentioned “background checks” for the first time in reference to San Bernardino.