Abraham Lincoln was “the Great Emancipator,” Ronald Reagan, the “Great Communicator,” and now, I believe, we’ve found a sobriquet that defines their current successor’s greatness. Barack Obama is the “Great Divider” (though some might dub him the “Great Decieiver”).
Though he campaigned as a unifier, bridging appeals to liberals (promising more government spending) with appeals to conservatives (promising to balance those spending increases with spending cuts), he has governed as a divider. Almost from Day One, he has waved his victory in the face of the opposition, answering their criticisms of his spendthrift “so-called stimulus” by telling then he’d won.
He has since blamed his predecessor regularly for the crisis he “inherited,” something none of his recent predecessors, even one who “inherited” crisis as least as bad as (and by many accounts worse than) the one he did, has done. While he claimed he did want to look back at interrogation policies of the Bush years, his Attorney General is doing just that, launching a criminal investigation of CIA agents’ tactics.
Now even as popular support for a major overhaul of our nation’s health care system erodes, he presses forward with his plans to do just that even as he lacks any sort of a national consensus. He would do well to scale back his proposals, rather than push his plan against growing opposition, even within his own party.
When he makes a plea for honest debate, he addresses only the (alleged) misrepresentations and “outright distortions” spread by the opposition. He doesn’t consider those on his side of the debate. He whines that some of his critics’ contentions are “phony claims meant to divide us.” And yes, there have been some opponents of Obamacare who have not been civil in raising their objections. He’s right to criticize them.
But, if he’s going to criticize those who contribute to the degeneration of this debate, he should fault those who, say, call opponents of Democratic plans insincere evil-mongers and Neanderthals bearing swastikas while committing an “act of treason.” Such rhetoric is also meant to divide us.
But, maybe he sees fostering such divisions as a good thing.
In his radio address, where he slammed those making supposedly phony claims, he spoke in only the broadest terms, repeating the same bromides he has offered again and again while barely touching any of the specifics of his plan. He doesn’t address the more substantive criticisms made by scholars, pundits and legislators, nor even acknowledge the sincerity of their concerns.
If he really wanted to elevate the tone, he would address those concerns and even take the time to take issue with some of the alternative reform proposals out there, say perhaps, with a point-by-point consideration of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s proposal.
But, instead of taking seriously the ideas and objections of his adversaries, he acts as if we want to “do nothing.” And by ignoring and/or misrepresenting the ideas of his opponents, he has become the divider-in-chief.
It’s unfortunate Barack Obama doesn’t use his rhetorical gifts to a more uplifting and unifying effect.