Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Satisfying The Right

On May 1, 2009, upon the occasion of the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Souter, President Obama stressed the need to achieve consensus across the partisan aisle and across political ideologies and commented

I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving as just decisions and outcomes....

As I make this decision, I intend to consult with members of both parties across the political spectrum

How did the right respond? A few days after Obama's statement honoring Souter's service and calling for "identifying with people's hopes and struggles, the Wall Street Journal editors were unconvinced, remarking "empathy is simply a codeword for an inclination toward liberal activism" and recommending "Republicans- inside and outside the Senate-" "build a case for saying no." That would prove a template for the GOP's approach to governing in the first half of Obama's term.

Little has changed in the wake of the carnage in Tucson, when we heard a President strenuously encouraging Americans to tone down their political rhetoric and listen to one another to achieve consensus across the political aisle and across competing political ideologies. Obama stated at the memorial service:

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that -- that heals, not in a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, "When I looked for light, then came darkness." Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is, none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind....

Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. After all...

In response (video available here from The Huffington Post), both Patrick J. Buchanan and Monica Crowley on The McClaughlin Group took the opportunity to slam the left by praising the President's speech for itself, in their view, slamming the left. Buchanan claimed

It was a stern, a fairly stern, admonition especially to the far left in this country, whichg has been quite frankly conducting something of a lynch mob against Glenn Beck, against Sarah Palin, against Rush Limbaugh, imputing moral complicity somehow in this crime somehow because of their rhetoric. He said incivility did not do this....

In the same vein, Crowley commended the President for the speech, then charged

He could have come out on Sunday or Monday, with a message to his own side telling them to 'cut it out' when they were drawing this very sort of malicious and vicious lie that somehow conservative talk or political climate had caused this particular act of violence, which even he later admitted it had not.... (It was) an effective beatdown to his own side.

We get, we get it. Senator Obama wrote in "The Audacity of Hope" (bold, isn't it, to have "hope" and to admit it?) "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” It is a virtue which has proven, as he no doubt expected, to be virtually invaluable in gaining, and holding, political support. It has allowed President Obama to maintain broad and tremendous support among members of his own party while convincing some conservative Republicans such as Buchanan and Crowley that he is on their side, striking out against liberals bent on shutting up and victimizing conservatives.

There could be no better example of Obama persuading his listeners that he agrees with them, no matter their perspective, than when he told the nation

And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.

Liberals and the mainstream media applauded Obama for encouraging "civility in our public discourse" while Buchanan noted the President "said incivility did not do this" and Crowley maintained Obama nixed the "malicious and vicious lie" that "political climate had caused this particular act of violence." Thus denying a calming role for civility, Buchanan would claim a "lynch mob" has attacked Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh who, at last notice, seem very much alive. And the President of the United States, in the cause of "civility," which "can help us face up to the challenges of our nation," can only blame both sides. And neither.

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