As Americans, we expect a degree of civility and straight talk when it comes to policy, and we don’t care for political games and posturing meant to distract us from the issues that matter. Unfortunately, our President has become one of the worst offenders against responsible, civil dialogue in today’s political system. Is he alone in this? No, and anyone who argues otherwise is selling something. But, has he made civil dialogue in politics a figurehead of his approach to governing? Do his past statements come across as hypocritical? Well, yes. They absolutely do.
Since his initial bid for the White House in 2008, and most recently his speech on jobs (but most notably his speech following the infamous shooting in Arizona, which nearly killed Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords), Obama has encouraged politicians to engage in more open dialogue and avoid divisive, partisan rhetoric. Has he matched up to his own standards? Let’s take a brief look:
- During remarks on American Latino Heritage in October of this year, President Obama said that Republicans (specifically those in the Senate) do not support an America in which every child, no matter what he looks like or where she comes from, should have a chance to succeed. He said none of this matters to Republicans in the Senate.
- In October 2010, again in remarks to Latinos, President Obama said that the Republicans were enemies, but then quickly backtracked. He did, however, manage to spin the situation by saying the Republicans were using his words against him. After all, it is unfair to expect accountability for ones words, isn’t it?
- In response to hecklers in October 2010, President Obama charged the GOP isn’t dedicated to combating global AIDS—by stating, “We’re funding global AIDS. And the other side is not.” This statement implies heartlessness by the Republicans, and is also an outright fallacy. The Bush administration felt funding AIDS relief was an extremely important issue, and in 2003, President Bush pledged $15 billion for it. This type of attack is hardly encouraging togetherness.
- Perhaps most startling was Obama’s lack of condemnation for the remarks by Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa Jr. in September of this year. Hoffa called the GOP sons of b[*]tches during his introduction of the President, and has still not condemned these remarks.
Americans deserve better than this type of do as I say, not as I do dialogue. Is Obama the first to engage in it? Of course not. But President Obama has been calling for civility these past several years, while simultaneously doing the exact opposite. This gives way to a larger issue. Because unless you’ve been living under a rock (or playing campout with the Occupy Wall Street kids), you’ve likely noticed the tone use in our political system has become rather harsh and even misleading at times. Our politicians today have become increasingly adept at utilizing (some might say exploiting) the gotcha environment that is the 24-hour news cycle. In this environment, the sound bite is king, and our leaders have become entrenched in the back-and-forth of mudslinging and irresponsible language.
Our political system is largely defined by our freedom of speech. And because of this freedom, our citizens can speak their minds on any issue, without fear of restriction or repercussion by any public or private entity. While this right exists, we’ve come to expect a degree of responsibility in language with certain figures, namely our elected officials and especially our President.
As President Obama has the unique ability to set the national tone by engaging in a more civil dialogue. This is why he should abandon his current tone and attempt to become the President he promised to be—someone who would rise above the divisive tone typical of Washington. He should commit himself to this now. However, if history truly is our guide to the future, don’t hold your breath.