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Did Obama Avoid a Disastrous Slip of the Tongue Regarding the NRA?

An opening clarifier: this write-up is based on what I personally believe could have been a narrowly avoided slip of the tongue by President Barack Obama during an improvised moment of last night’s address after the Umpqua Community College shooting.

For all official intents and purposes, the transcript provided here by Time and here by The White House identifies the President’s language one way, though when I heard it, I could have sworn he nearly blurted out a word that would certainly have disastrous PR consequences. 

Towards the end of the President’s impassioned speech, much of his dialogue — such as the line in question — is off-the-cuff rather than from notes. We reported him as being “incredibly frustrated” with the frequency of these horrific acts, and here he addressed law-abiding gun owners directly:

And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.

However, when watching the video of the President’s remarks, it didn’t quite play out so smoothly. “Suggests” was not the word the President wanted to use; he stutters through his first choice, second-guesses himself, and seems to settle on the word “suggests” when describing, what I presume to be, the role of the NRA (“the organization”). His initial word choice, to me, sounds like it begins with the letters “pre” and it instantly popped into my head: “pretends”.

As in, ‘…think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that pretends it’s speaking for you’.

This is purely conjecture on my part. It is simply my opinion after watching the video and playing back the moment in question many times that the President nearly used a different word, and for whatever reason, walked it back very carefully. In this moment, our Commander in Chief appears visibly rattled.

You’re welcome to watch the video and judge for yourself what you think the President was initially looking to say; skip ahead to the 10:28 mark for this section of the speech. Possibly, the word “proposes”; maybe “propositions”, or less likely, “propounds”. Earlier this year President Obama took on both the NRA and its “grip” on members of Congress, and he has a long history of publicly chastising the gun rights advocacy group.

The impact of using the word “pretends” in that context would be monumental (or even “purports” for that matter); gun advocates, lobbyists, and elected officials alike would drag the President through the mud for the rest of his term over this statement. He would be decried as pushing his personal far-left agenda, attacking the liberties of our citizens and increasing the influence of the Federal government. The right would say he had no business to inject his personal views into a speech such as this; Bristol Palin would declare that his priorities were out of whack. The Fox News talking points would be set for the Friday shows and long into the future, all for a moment of candor born of human frustration.

In the canon of this President’s addresses to the nation, it will certainly be the word “suggests” that is recorded, and the momentary hesitation at the podium will not exist in text. Rightfully so. You may watch the video and accuse me of seeing something not there, making a mountain out of a nonexistent molehill, ruffling feathers simply for a Friday column.

But regardless of your political points of view, your opinions on the rights of gun owners and legislation to limit them, or your stance on the President’s “politicizing” of these tragedies, one thing is for certain. If there is a muted inner dialogue to the man expressing anger over gun violence and dissatisfaction with his Congress, it seems likely that he would think exactly that: this organization pretends it’s speaking for the American people.

[photo via screengrab]

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