Himself the father of two young children, the president referred to the children who died no fewer than seven times – at times in graphic terms, including the searing image of “a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.”
And he directed one moral plea about the children to a constituency that usually backs him.
“To my friends on the left,” Obama said, “I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain, and going still on a cold hospital floor. For sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.”
Two of Obama’s top foreign policy advisers – National Security Adviser Susan Rice and UN Ambassador Samantha Power – have also highlighted the suffering of Syrian children in their public remarks calling for US action. But Obama’s rhetoric Tuesday showed that it’s not just the women of his administration who are hard-wired to feel special compassion for children.
The Obama administration has shown videos that depict hard-to-watch scenes of the chemical weapons attacks to members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and reportedly considered including images as part of the president’s presentation Tuesday night, but opted not to, as children might have been watching.
'Outside' influences. The “bubble” in which Obama – and all presidents – resides is far from airtight. Though his didn't mention his wife, Michelle, in his speech, he has noted her hesitation over Syria at other times recently. On Tuesday night, Obama acknowledged that the public criticism over his handling of Syria had reached him, loud and clear.
“I know Americans want all of us in Washington – especially me – to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home: putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class,” Obama said.
“It’s no wonder, then, that you’re asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I’ve heard from members of Congress, and that I’ve read in letters that you’ve sent to me.”