Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Can Obama Unite the Country?

I confess I did not believe Barack Obama entirely during the campaign when he bragged on working across the aisle and championing bipartisanship.

You see, as in the case of any other politician, one must look to what he does--and has done--not what he says for election advantage.

And in the case of Sen. Obama, in his nascent career in the Senate, he had already compiled the most partisan record of any Democratic Senator. He had attended religiously one of the most racially divisive and extremist churches in the country. His Chicago friends were not moderates. His campaigns for state legislature, the House and the Senate were hard-ball, no-prisoner affairs of personal destruction, even by Chicago standards. Campaign references to reparations, gun- and bible-clingers, and Rev. Wright's wisdom were not words of healing.

In short, while the rhetoric was often inspirational, I found no real reason then--or now--to believe that Barack Obama wishes to be a uniter. And nothing in his first five weeks of governance has disabused me of that first tough impression.

Nevertheless, here are five modest recommendations that he might adopt if he were really interested in bringing the country together.

1) Forget talk radio. During the campaign, President Obama, you went after Sean Hannity on numerous occasions--which are recycled ad nauseam almost daily as sound-bites on his radio program. Once in office, both you and your staff have zeroed in on Rush Limbaugh by name. But Presidential candidates and elected Presidents must seem above the fray, and not descend into tit-for-tat with media celebrities. There is a reason why even your closest associates have ceased calling you Barack and now quite properly address you as "Mr. President"--and it is not due to your persistence in demonizing talk radio.

Did George Bush go after Bill Maher or Air American or Keith Olbermann when almost daily they slandered his character? Did he serially evoke Michael Moore? To have done so by name, would have demeaned his office. Worry about refuting conservative ideas, and governing the country, rather than dueling over the airways with those who get paid for only that. The country wanted a Lincoln, not another Nixon going after Dan Rather at a press conference. So far your administration resembles the latter, not the former.

2) Forget about George Bush. We got the message already that he is near satanic, you angelic. Yet even in your inauguration speech, you could not leave well enough alone, and so once again went after a predecessor who won two elections, and so far has been circumspect in his criticism of your own brief tenure. Even ex-Presidents--cf. Jimmy Carter's self-serving ankle-biting and Bill Clinton contorted snipes--reduce the office when they engage in schoolyard "they did it, not me" finger-pointing.

Again, in your first address to the nation, you went out swinging: "As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." But President Bush never set up such a Manichean either/or situation, as you yourself must accept, when you embraced his protocols on FISA, the Patriotic Act, the Bush-Petraeus Iraq withdrawal plan, and kept rendition, and so far have not quite closed Guantanamo.

And there was more still in that address: "A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. . .Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market."

But Mr. President, deficits arose from out-of-control spending, inasmuch as the Bush tax cuts resulted in increased revenue. It is fair to fault the past eight years of profligate spending, but when you engage in such demagoguery, the American people can detect your subtext: "I won't criticize Bush's spending because I found it not enough and will trump it; I will criticize his tax cuts, since I want to make the wealthier pay for my even greater borrowing."

Read it all here.

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