During the better part of the transition, it seemed that then-President-elect Barack Obama would truly live up to the image he put forward during the campaign, a post-partisan figure able to transcend the divisive politics which had defined national politics for nearly twenty years. Once in office, he would use his formidable gifts to unite us as a nation. He appointed competent people to his cabinet (or so they appeared at the time), spoke in measured tones, was gracious in relationships with the-then incumbent Administration, refraining from criticizing George W. Bush and his team.
He reached out to his campaign rival, John McCain, inviting him to Chicago shortly after the election and hosting a dinner in his honor the day before his inauguration.
Yeah, there were a few fumbles and stumbles along the way, but on the whole, a class act.
That all changed almost from the moment he took office. During the inauguration, he bypassed an opportunity to stand up to the hate on his side of the aisle when he failed to silence those who booed his predecessor. What a gesture that would have been!
And then in (what I believe was) his first meeting as president with a bipartisan congressional delegation, he snapped, “I won” to defend the “stimulus” he was then pushing. Shortly thereafter, he starting blaming his predecessor on a pretty regularly basis. In a very short amount of time, President Obama forfeited the chance he had to truly bridge the partisan gap and unite the nation, moving us toward an era of less intense political acrimony.
Well, today, one week after nearly one half-million people rallied to protest increased government spending and the tax increases we fear will follow to pay for them, he has a chance to recover the ground he lost in the days immediately after the election. All he need to is acknowledge the sincerity of the Tea Party protesters and fault those who would question it.
He could make a stand for civil discourse by showing some understanding of the concerns of his fellow citizens, maybe inviting some leaders of the nascent grassroots movement to the White House. Or he could deliver a speech wherein he praises our activism as within the American tradition. Perhaps, he could do this as part of a larger address where he tackles head-on the issues we raised in our rallies.
Like Jonathan Rauch with gay marriage opponents, he would “encapsulate” his adversaries’ arguments, acknowledging our points, then carefully rebut them, defending his policies. By showing respect for his political opponents, this appraoch would also help elevate him “above the fray.” It might even help him win support for his budget proposals.
In short by acknowledging the legitimacy of the protesters’ concerns, he would increase his own stature as President of the United States. It would show that he sees his office not as one to promote partisan ends, but to advance the national interest.
Mr. President, stand up to the hysterical and intolerant voices on your side of the aisle and show some respect for your political adversaries. It’s what a President does should do.