Mistaken Perhaps, But Evil?
By Patrick F. Cannon
I can believe that President Obama made a mistake in forcing through the Affordable Care Act without making a serious effort to accommodate the ideas and concerns of the Republican members of Congress. Had he done so, perhaps many of the obvious failures of the act might have been avoided.
One might also question his handling of foreign policy, particularly as regards Syria, and his tendency to use executive action to get around the gridlock in Congress on immigration and gun control. At the very least, it smacks of a kind of “I know better” arrogance. But nearly everything he’s done is consistent with his essential political philosophy, i.e., progressive liberal activism.
While I might not agree with most of his policies – in fact, I strongly disagree with much of what he has done – my opposition is on purely political grounds. I do not hate President Obama. I’m able to make a distinction between the policies and the man. The man has a wife and kids, and loyal friends, just like most people. He has a dog, always a plus with me. If we broke bread, it’s likely we would find things in common as well as areas of disagreement. You know, just like your friends. Or do your friends have to march in lockstep with you and your politics? Is that all that matters?
If you listen to conservative talk radio, or watch the pundits on Fox, you might be forgiven for thinking that all the President really cares about is screwing over you personally. He’ll begin by taking your guns, and then force you to like illegal immigrants, abortionists and gays. After that, he’ll grab your dough and give it to the undeserving poor.
This kind of partisan hatred is, of course, nothing new. George W. Bush got pretty much the same treatment for this two terms (what President would actually want to serve more)? In his case, the attacks came from the hard left; insert MSNBC for Fox, and Bill Maher for Rush Limbaugh. Bill Clinton was a special case with his sexual peccadilloes, but presidents before him really didn’t have to undergo the same level of demonization that seems to have become common in the age of partisan 24-hour news outlets and the internet.
It’s far too early to say what history will make of either Obama or Bush. It’s only fairly recently that we have come to really understand the malignancy of Andrew Jackson, for example. Other bad presidents (but not necessarily bad men) include Tyler, Buchannan, Pierce, Fillmore, Grant, Harding, Hoover and Carter. Aside from Jackson, it’s hard to summon up much hatred for any of them. Grant and Harding, for example, trusted people they shouldn’t have. And Hoover was a great engineer, but a lousy economist.
Of the presidents who have served in my lifetime, I can summon up genuine animus for only one: Richard Nixon. And even he has some apologists! So, let’s save our hatred for terrorists and the creators of reality television.
Copyright 2016, Patrick F. Cannon
4 thoughts on “Mistaken Perhaps, But Evil?”
I have to agree that the demonization, if that is an actual word (maybe it is now!), of Mr. Obama is political hyperbole. We seem to live in an age where political activity is cast in a melodramatic narrative of good vs. evil, hero vs. villain, right vs. wrong, truth vs. lies. So the issues of the day are portrayed as men against women, straights against gays, rich against poor, white against black. In the political theatre it’s easy to see why political differences become the good guys against the bad.
Mr. Obama and his allies have not been immune to this tendency to typecast opponents. It’s been too expedient to label the motives of opponents as racist, homophobic, fascist, greedy, or inspired by hatred. Before you can say Rush Limbaugh, political discourse has degenerated into the kind of pissing content you find in the comments section of nearly any online article on politics.
By way of full disclosure, I didn’t vote for Obama in 2008 or 2012 or even when he ran for Senator. I thought he was ill-suited to be President, in experience, temperament and background. Nonetheless, I held out some hope that as an African-American with an education, a stable family, and a stated desire to unite people, he would work to improve the social condition and aspirations of blacks, and help heal the lingering animosity between races. Instead, he’s done none of these things and in fact has made the situation worse.
As we move to the next chapter of presidential politics and as Mr. Obama becomes increasingly irrelevant (Question: Will his party invite him to its national convention?), we can see the demonization process taking shape among the various candidates. By November, voters will have faced a choice from a cast of liars, impostors, haters, traitors, and the progeny of mongrel dogs. Some of these characterizations will have a kernel of truth.
I think one reason national political discourse has become so strident and nasty can be found in the viciousness of academic politics: other than ego there really isn’t that much at stake. Today racism is far, far less virulent than it was in the 1950s; we have a sporadic terrorist problem but we are not at war; the country, especially compared to other places, is fairy prosperous; women have more rights and status in society than they ever had and possibly ever will; illegal immigration may be a problem but mostly only in certain parts of the country, and we’ve been living with it for years. We’ve even been able to live with Obama and a somnolent Congress. Even climate change, the number one threat according to the State Department, hasn’t really amounted to much if anything and most people couldn’t care less about it. The more malign the attacks, the less critical the issue.
I personally am concerned about the expanding trillions of government debt and the risk it poses for the future. I’d be especially worried about debt if I still lived in Illinois. But most people don’t understand it or see it as their problem (until their taxes go up and services get cut back). I think Obamacare has increased the cost of medical care, increasing demand but limiting supply. But these are topics for another time.
Well said, especially about non concern about the debt. The Chicago schools just borrowed nearly $800 million and will pay more than 8 percent. If interest rates increase for Federal debt, as they eventually will, perhaps folks will wake up and wonder how it happened. Illinois today, tomorrow the world!
You are both right – we as a country seem to have forgotten how to have respectful conversations about our areas of difference.
I think the rise of social media and the myriad of online comment boards have contributed to this. People are very nasty to total strangers on these boards, and say things they most likely would not say to the other person’s face.
The vast majority of people are doing their best to do what they feel is the right thing. If everyone would a) assume good intentions, b) seek first to fully listen and understand, and c) discuss our differences respectfully and rationally, we’d all be happier and stronger as a society.
I live in hope!