Charles Krauthammer has an excellent column about President Obama’s immigration speech in El Paso the other day. Here’s a sample:
The El Paso speech is notable not for breaking any new ground on immigration but for perfectly illustrating Obama’s political style: the professorial, almost therapeutic, invitation to civil discourse, wrapped around the basest of rhetorical devices — charges of malice compounded with accusations of bad faith. “They’ll never be satisfied,” said Obama about border control. “And I understand that. That’s politics.”
How understanding. The other side plays “politics,” Obama acts in the public interest. Their eyes are on poll numbers, political power, the next election; Obama’s rest fixedly on the little children.
This impugning of motives is an Obama constant. “They” play politics with deficit reduction, with government shutdowns, with health care. And now immigration. It is ironic that such a charge should be made in a speech that is nothing but politics. There is zero chance of any immigration legislation passing Congress in the next two years. El Paso was simply an attempt to gin up the Hispanic vote as part of an openly political two-city, three-event campaign swing in preparation for 2012.
Accordingly, the El Paso speech featured two other staples: the breathtaking invention and the statistical sleight of hand.
Krauthammer continues, calling out the president for his abuse of statistics and his demagoguery.
For a man who has blown so much hot air about civility and changing the dialogue in Washington, President Obama has been in fact more overtly partisan than any president I can recall, and my political memory dates back to Reagan. Most of the president’s major addresses contain the following elements:
1 – Discussion of other side’s opposition to his plans in tone that suggests mild surprise and even outrage that other people have differing viewpoints. President Obama often pays lip service to respecting other’s viewpoints, but when he actually gets around to discussing policy issues his tone becomes sarcastic and mocking, as though no sentient human being could possibly think other than he does.
2 – Erecting strawman arguments and mischaracterizing opponents’ positions. An absolute staple of any Obama speech, as highlighted by Krauthammer above.
3 – Testily dismissing opponents. Having characterized his opponents as people who want to starve the elderly, children, women, Asians, Eskimos, and puppies, President Obama then concludes this portion of his speech with a metaphorical wave of his hand. On several occasions he has quite literally said that Republican input was not welcome.
What a uniter, that guy.
And here’s the thing. In a certain sense I don’t really care. There were times during George Bush’s presidency that I wanted him to be a bit feistier and take on his opponents more fiercely. Presidents are supposed to be above the fray, but that’s a bit of hogwash. Presidents can be partisan crusaders as long as they keep it within respectful limits. In other words, they should be above the level of your typical comment box antagonist.
Besides, when President Obama gets into sarcastic mode it’s one of the few times he almost seems human and non-boring. Most of the time Obama displays two rhetorical styles: faux Martin Luther King Jr, and robot teleprompter reader. Either he’s doing his worst impression of a dynamic speaker or else he sounds like someone who has just woken from a deep nap. I don’t know who these people are that think he’s a great speaker, but frankly he rarely speaks like a normal man except when he’s cranky and sarcastic. In fact, if he were more regularly sarcastic and petty then I might be able to sit through more of his talks. At least then they would be entertaining.
No, what grates about his divisive rhetoric is that it contradicts all his campaign blabber from 2008. Oh, sure, it’s the same nonsense we hear from all camps every election season, and I’m sure several GOP candidates this Fall and Winter will go out of their way to make some appeal to “curing our partisan discord.” Hopefully I will have my bucket at the ready for such moments. But not only has Obama not kept this unkeepable promise, he actually has gone above and beyond to completely obliterate any sense of being some kind of uniter.
Unfortunately we will never learn, and again we’ll fall for this cheap rhetoric in the future. As I said, we’ll get more of the same in 2o12. Like the rising of the sun and its setting, empty campaign promises of entering into some non partisan fairy land are sure bets. Such meaningless dribble overlooks two facts of life: there have been very few times in American history when we have not been subject to deep partisan divides, and there will never be a time in America where people do not have passionate beliefs that are irreconcilable with other beliefs. That’s not to say we have to be jerks about it, but it should make us wake up to the reality that differences of opinion will always exist in a free country, and glossing over those differences by vacuous campaign rhetoric won’t bring us any closer to bridging those gaps.