Friday, March 18, 2016

Obama on Trump's political violence: Both Sides Do It!

Maybe a better title for this would be, "Another Day in Democratic Moderation in the Face of Radical Republicans":

Cenk Uygur breaks it down in Fox News Has Decided Who's To Blame For Trump's Violent Rallies The Young Turks 03/18/2016:

Here is the text of the part of Obama's remarks with which Cenk deals, Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Kenny of Ireland at "Friends of Ireland" Luncheon 03/15/2016, with my emphasis in bold:

But even if it is an election year, I think the spirit of this day is something worth aspiring to all year round. And, Taoiseach [Prime Minister of Ireland], I hope that you’ll forgive me -- indulge me for one second as I comment on our domestic politics, just for a moment.

In my State of the Union address, I remarked that many of you have told me you’d like to see more cooperation and a more elevated debate in Washington, but everyone sometimes feels trapped by their politics. I understand that feeling. I served with many of you in Congress. And so I know that I’m not the only one in this room who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail lately. We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities -- at Americans who don’t look like “us,” or pray like “us,” or vote like we do. We’ve seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech, however offensive it may be. We live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold.

In response to those attempts, we’ve seen actual violence, and we’ve heard silence from too many of our leaders. Speaker Ryan, I appreciated the words on this topic that you shared with us this morning. But too often we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal.

And it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us may have done to contribute to this kind of vicious atmosphere in our politics. I suspect that all of us can recall some intemperate words that we regret. Certainly, I can. And while some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it. For it is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America. And it has to stop. And I say that not because it’s a matter of “political correctness,” it’s about the way that corrosive behavior can undermine our democracy, and our society, and even our economy.

In America, there aren’t laws that say that we have to be nice to each other, or courteous, or treat each other with respect. But there are norms. There are customs. There are values that our parents taught us and that we try to teach to our children -- to try to treat others the way we want to be treated; the notion that kindness breeds kindness. The longer that we allow the political rhetoric of late to continue, and the longer that we tacitly accept it, we create a permission structure that allows the animosity in one corner of our politics to infect our broader society. And animosity breeds animosity.

And this is also about the American brand. Who are we? How are we perceived around the world? There’s a reason that America has always attracted the greatest talent from every corner of the globe. There’s a reason that “Made in America” means something. It’s because we’re creative, and dynamic, and diverse, and inclusive, and open. Why would we want to see that brand tarnished? The world pays attention to what we say and what we do.

And this is also about what we are teaching our children. We should not have to explain to them this darker side of politics. We should not be afraid to take them to a political rally, or let them watch political debates. We should be teaching them that this democracy is a vibrant and precious thing. And it’s going to be theirs someday. And we want them to elevate it.

I had the cast of “Hamilton” at the White House yesterday, who are doing an incredible job getting our young people excited about the possibilities of democracy and the power they have to play a part in it. And these young people drawn from every race and every background from all across the city, you could just see the excitement that they had, the notion that they were somehow connected to the story of a Hamilton, or a Washington, or a Franklin, or a Madison. And so we should be asking ourselves -- as those in power with this incredible legacy -- whether we are delivering that same message to our children. Are we making them excited about being citizens of this great country?

So when we leave this lunch, I think we have a choice. We can condone this race to the bottom, or accept it as the way things are and sink further. Or we can roundly reject this kind of behavior, whether we see it in the other party, or more importantly, when we see it in our own party, and set a better example for our children and the rest of the country to follow. It starts with us.

Speaker Ryan, you and I don’t agree on a lot of policy. But I know you are a great father and a great husband, and I know you want what’s best for America. And we may fiercely disagree on policy -- and the NFC North -- (laughter) -- but I don’t have a bad word to say about you as a man. And I would never insult my fellow Irish like that.

The point is, we can have political debates without turning on one another. We can disagree without assuming that it’s motivated by malice. There are those here who have fought long and hard to create peace in Northern Ireland and understand what happens when we start going into these dark places, the damage that can be done, and how long it can take to unwind.

So we can treat one another as patriots even if we disagree, as fellow Americans who love this country equally, because it’s a place that frees us to have different ideas and different points of view.

So I reject any effort to spread fear, or encourage violence, or to shut people down when they're trying to speak, or turn Americans against one another. And I think as a citizen who will still be leading this office, I will not support somebody who practices that kind of politics. And any leader worthy of our support will remind us that even in a country as big and diverse and as inclusive as ours, what we have in common is far bigger and more important than any of our differences.

That’s what carried us through other times that were far more tough and far more dangerous than the one that we're in today -– times where we were told to fear the future; times where we were told to turn inward and to turn against each other. And each time, we overcame those fears. Each time, we faced the future with confidence in who we are and what we stand for, and the incredible things that we’re capable of together.

And we do this because we are America. It’s a place that sees opportunity where others see peril, and that drew so many Irish and other immigrants to our shores. Our unbending belief that we make our own destiny and our unshakable dream that if we work hard and live up to our responsibilities, and if we look out for one another, then there is a better day lying right around the bend.

That dream has always come true in America. It is what provided hope and comfort and opportunity for so many that traveled across the Atlantic. It always will -- so long as we nurture it.
In the context, this is almost worse than Both Sides Do It.

Sadly, this is a continuation of Obama's chronic reluctance to call Republican violence-mongering by its name. I was struck by that in 2011 at the time of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gaby Giffords. I wrote after Obama's major speech on that event (Obama's Tucson speech 01/12/2011):

I'm going to say what I actually thought of Obama's Tucson speech. It was a beautiful speech. It's likely to be widely praised and quickly forgotten.

But in the circumstances, I found it very disappointing. It was full of pious and forgettable platitudes, occasionally sliding into the maudlin. We really don't need the President to be our Pastor-in-Chief. That's not his job.

Admittedly, at times like this the President's dual role as head of government and head of state does create a particular dilemma. The head of state in countries like Germany or Austria where the two roles are separated is expected to provide broad moral leadership to the country in a moment like this. The head of government, e.g., the prime minister, would be expected to do the same but focus more on some of the more practical issues arising from such an event.

But it's unimaginable to me that the German or Austrian President (head of state) would use an occasion like this, when a member of parliament and a judge who had been targeted with violent rhetoric and death threats by far-right radicals and were then killed by someone who clearly was at least well-acquainted with far-right fanatical notions, to talk about rain puddles in Heaven. And not mentioning at all the more generalized climate of hatred and incitement to violence in which this assassination attack took place and the source of the hate mongering on the far right.

The President needed to address head-on the problem of domestic terrorism. And he needed to find some way to address the inflammatory and insurrectionary rhetoric from the right. Since both Congresswoman Giffords and Judge Roll had been targeted for venomous threats over their support of immigrants' rights, that would have been a natural lead-in. He could have talked about honoring their commitment on that issue by opposing acts of violence and hatred and racial stereotyping directed at immigrants and Latinos. He wouldn't have had to mention Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh by name.
As I also noted at the time, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke more clearly on topic. The AP reported at the time (Clinton: Arizona shooting a form of 'extremism' 01/12/2011):

"Based on what I know, this is a criminal defendant who was in some ways motivated by his own political views, who had a particular animus toward the congresswoman," she said.

"And I think when you cross the line from expressing opinions that are of conflicting differences in our political environment into taking action that's violent action, that's a hallmark of extremism, whether it comes from the right, the left, from al-Qaida, from anarchists, whoever it is," she said. "That is a form of extremism."

In remarks on the shooting in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, Clinton said the incident was proof there were extremists in the U.S.

"I think that when you're a criminal who is in some way pursuing criminal activity connected to - however bizarre and poorly thought through - your political views, that's a form of extremism," she said on Wednesday.

The Chicago Sun-Times editorialized at the time (We can't say we weren't warned about Arizona shooting tragedy 01/09/2011):

Only in time will we know if the killer was among those who threatened Giffords with physical harm last year when she voted in favor of President Obama’s health-care reforms. We may never know whether he was the one who shattered the windows of her Tucson office. And it’s entirely possible that he was not among those — the many — who threatened her with death after she spoke out against Arizona’s harsh new immigration law.

But would any intelligent person be surprised to learn otherwise?

The safe observation for us to make now — you will hear it from others all week — is that the angry and irresponsible talk that might lead an unhinged person to pick up a gun is common across the political landscape, from right to left.

But that simply is not true.

Overwhelmingly today, the fear-mongering and demonizing flow from the right, aided and abetted by cable TV and talk-radio hosts.
They may represent only the irresponsible fringe of conservatism in America, but they are drowning out the thoughtful voices of the vast majority of conservatives. [my emphasis]
The Democratic Party needs to find a better way to address Republican violence and incitement to violence than what Obama has typically done.

Cenk is right. Approaching it the way Obama did on Tuesday (quoted above) mainly serves to validate the FOX News/Todd Starnes fantasies about "left-wing thugs" and "professional hooligans" included in Cenk's report.

No comments: