Nancy Pelosi’s readiness to blame the Bush Administration, the “all-purpose political punching bag” of liberal imagination, for her own imperfections, indicates that President Obama has yet broken the “pattern in Washington where everybody is always looking for somebody else to blame.”
If the President truly wishes to change the tone in our nation’s capital, he’s going to have to do two things, first, refrain from blaming his predecessor for the nation’s problems (and otherwise fault Republican motives) and second, dare to take his own party and other critics of Republicans to task for casting such blame as well as leveling vicious personal attacks (questioning their motives and maligning them personally).
To that end, he should insist that all focus their criticisms on particular policies, understanding that people with various political philosophies will offer different solutions to our nation’s problems. He would truly change their tone by expressing respect for their motives, asserting that they put forward their proposals with the best of intentions.
He could have taken a step in that direction had he criticized Wanda Sykes for wishing death on Rush Limbaugh at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last week. He had a golden opportunity then, just as he had during his inauguration when guests booed the outgoing President of the United States, to live up to the rhetoric of his campaign by challenging those whose very rhetoric undermines that of his campaign.
Barack Obama won last fall’s campaign in large part because he put forward an image of a level-headed man who could unite the nation. His friendship in the Senate with Tom Coburn, one of its most conservative members, was testament to his ability to bridge the partisan divide. Unfortunately, despite a few token gestures to Republicans in Congress, he has done little to acknowledge the sincerity of (most) conservative criticism of his policies and to fault the continued mean-spirited record of (some of) his supporters and their partisan allies.
His image during the primaries moved even a Republican like myself. Now, as president, he needs to burnish that image and reinforce it through rhetoric and actions. His decision to tap Utah’s Republican Governor as Ambassador to China is a step in the right direction. Now he needs back up that action with strong, unifying rhetoric.
He could take his cue from the language similar to that of such liberal icons as Hubert Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy–promoting liberal ideas without maligning conservative individuals.