Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Disparagement of Obama

Paul Krugman, the other day, identified a double standard, blogging

At the beginning of last week, the commentariat was in raptures over the Serious, Courageous, Game-Changing Ryan plan. But now that the plan has been exposed as the cruel nonsense it is, what we’re hearing a lot about is the need for more civility in the discourse. President Obama did a bad thing by calling cruel nonsense cruel nonsense; he hurt Republican feelings, and how can we have a deal when the GOP is feeling insulted? What we need is personal outreach; let’s do lunch!

The easy, and perfectly fair, shot is to talk about the hypocrisy here; where were all the demands for civility when Republicans were denouncing Obama as a socialist, accusing him of creating death panels, etc..? Why is it OK for Republicans to accuse Obama of stealing from Medicare, but not OK for Obama to declare, with complete truthfulness, that those same Republicans are trying to dismantle the whole program?

Of course, it is fine for Obama to point out "that those same Republicans are trying to dismantle the whole program," given that they want- and have voted- to eliminate Medicare. And of course the traditional media would rather the President fall in line with its practice, calling it "reform" or the GOP's effort to address health care costs. Suggesting that when Obama calls out Republicans for wanting to dismantle Obamacare he is being less than civil or bipartisan is inconsistent, given the legitimacy given outlandish GOP claims (e.g., socialism, death panels) about Barack Obama's policies.

But to be fair, this apparent hypocrisy is less about doubting or criticizing Barack Obama than it is about the nature of the controversy. There is one controversy- a trumped-up one (pun intended) in which the mainstream media supports Barack Obama and finds criticism of him lacking civility.

There are examples throughout. Discussing with David Corn and Joshua Micah Marshall implications that Barack Obama was born abroad (itself ridiculed as "birtherism"), Obama supporter Chris Matthews yesterday exclaimed

So basically, that`s what the right are saying. You got to say stupid things because that`s the price of admission to our clubhouse. If you`re not willing to say he`s a -- he`s not an American, don`t talk to us. And I think that`s where the real dividing line here is between the guys who refuse to play -- get in the mud, like Romney and Pawlenty, and the guys who say if we`ve got to get in the mud, I`ll get in the mud first.

Support for the President against those who would ignore facts is not limited to his critics. On Inside Washington, designated centrist Nina Totenberg refers to "fringe, nutty people;" Charles Krauthammer calls Donald Trump "our Al Sharpton." And after criticizing Mike Huckabee for failing to label as "paranoia" questions about Obama's birth certificate, George Will went after Newt Gingrich, writing

To the notion that Obama has a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" worldview, the sensible response is: If only. Obama's natural habitat is as American as the nearest faculty club; he is a distillation of America's academic mentality; he is as American as the other professor-president, Woodrow Wilson. A question for former history professor Gingrich: Why implicate Kenya?

President Obama may be infected with an "academic mentality"- which Will neglects to explain, unsurprisingly- but charges that he wasn't born in the U.S.A. are characterized by "vibrations of weirdness." Will, were he not far more erudite than I, probably would have said: Obama was born in this country but he is an overly-educated left-wing naif. And skinny, no less.

There is no credible evidence that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States of America. There is no credible evidence that President Obama is a socialist, an advocate of redistribution of income, an avid partisan, "angry black guy," or a traitor "largely responsible for destroying our economy and the budget and the currency who is "never gonna do what's best for the society generally." As for these, after two years of the Obama presidency, we know those things are false. We have seen him in action and he has proven he is none of these and is not dismissive of the nation's best interests.

The dividing line, then, is not between President Obama and his critics. It is between questioning Barack Obama's origins, which has been deemed illegitimate, and unsubstantiated, ultra far right denunciation of his policies, which the Beltway crowd thus far has accepted as legitimate and to which it has granted thoroughly undeserved credibility.

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