After the horrific wildfires on the Hawaiian island of Maui last week that took the lives of at least 99 and left more than 1,000 unaccounted for, many Americans are donating money to help the victims. Many more are offering their thoughts and prayers, including former President Barack Obama, who grew up in Hawaii but infamously said after a mass shooting in 2015: “Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
What Did Barack Obama Say?
At the time, Obama condemned the phrase, saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel, and it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America, next week or a couple months from now.”
Obama’s public reprimand has since made it acceptable for many—mostly on the Left—to mock and excoriate those who believe in the power of prayer to offer hope in seemingly hopeless situations.
According to a 2019 Washington Post analysis, “After Barack Obama’s criticism in 2015, The Post found that the tenor of the tweets [on Twitter] became angrier, more sarcastic and polarizing. Many people castigated those who used the phrase.”
The Post analyzed more than 600,000 tweets containing the phrase “thoughts and prayers” between 2012 and 2019 and found that “the expression has become a political flashpoint on social media.”
Yet, in a video posted to his Twitter account Monday in response to the Maui wildfires, Obama said: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families that have lost so much.”
I guess that either means Obama is joining the rest of us whom the Left accuses of being posturing “thoughts and prayers” hypocrites, or Obama has made it OK again to say that phrase.
In the same video, Barack Obama reiterates that thoughts and prayers are not enough and encourages people to assist the victims by donating to the Red Cross.
“The thing about it is, though, thoughts and prayers in a moment like this are not enough,” Obama says of the Maui wildfires in the video. “We have to step up. And we have to help those families.”
He is certainly right in one respect: During tragedies, we must step up and help in tangible ways. But for those who are far removed from the victims, powerless to do much for them, or who don’t have the financial capacity to help, thoughts and prayers may be the only thing they can offer.
And for believers in God, we know that those prayers are a powerful offering: “Thoughts and prayers” isn’t an empty platitude but rather an act of calling on God for assistance as well as an expression of grief, sympathy, and solidarity.
Critics claim that offering thoughts and prayers is disingenuous, insufficient, or hypocritical when those offering thoughts and prayers don’t agree with them politically on the way to address the problems that caused the tragedy in the first place.
Those on the Left get angry when conservatives don’t agree with them that taking away everyone’s car will end natural disasters, taking away everyone’s Second Amendment rights will prevent shootings, or forcing minorities to think of white people as oppressors will stop individual acts of racism.
Of course, sometimes the phrase “thoughts and prayers” is disingenuous, especially when coming from a politician who merely seeks to score political points or wants to avoid being scolded for seeming not to care. Sometimes, the phrase is disingenuous when it’s used as a form of virtue signaling by those on social media.
And it’s always disingenuous when one says “thoughts and prayers” but never actually bothers to take the time to pray for the victims and those trying to help them.
But in general, Barack Obama’s reprimand is unnecessary and serves more as political posturing than anything else. When disaster strikes, Americans generously put their pocketbooks behind their prayers and send support through relief organizations, churches, and other charities. Many also volunteer their time and skills and go to the site of the disaster itself to help.
There is no reason for Obama to chastise the American people other than to reassert his own sense of moral superiority, to have people look away from God and instead look to him and the government for solutions, and to continue doing what he always has done so well: divide the nation for political gain.
Today, I genuinely offered my prayers for those suffering in Hawaii because of the wildfires. If Barack Obama Almighty can do it, I guess I can, too; and I have him to thank for making that OK again.
Brian Gottstein is a senior editor and writing advisor at The Daily Signal and The Heritage Foundation, a best-selling author, and a former radio talk show host. This first appeared in the Daily Signal.
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