Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Obama's Tucson speech



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.

How might a Democratic Chief Executive who wasn't terrified of being criticized by Republicans have handled this? Our Secretary of State gave an example of what could have been a different, more honest, more constructive approach (Clinton: Arizona shooting a form of 'extremism' Arizona Republic/A********* P****01/12/2001):

"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. [my emphasis]
The CNN interview where she said this can be found here.

So we can say that one of the most senior officials in Obama's Administration managed to call the problem by its name.

The President said in Tucson that what "we" need is "reflection and debate." What we also need is for rightwing fanatics to stop murdering people because they see them as evil libruls.

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