There he goes again. This past week, President Obama once again displayed what, at least to me, is a disturbing character trait, one that he's apparently making no effort whatsoever to disguise.
President Obama is prideful.
For some of you, that might elicit a response of "Duh!" From his body language to his frequently stated justifications of Presidential prerogatives ("I won"), he has always presented himself in a somewhat imperial fashion.
The most bothersome manifestation of his pride, however, is how it affects his responses to his critics, especially the everyday Americans who disagree with his policies.
Ever since the campaign, when he felt compelled to explain to a private audience of well-heeled Democratic donors in San Francisco the psychology of working class Americans, who he presumed are "bitter" and "clinging" to guns and religion, he's had an adversarial relationship with people he perceives as his lessers.
This past Thursday, once again at a Democratic fundraiser, he mocked the Tea Party protesters who were out in force nationwide on Tax Day, April 15th, suggesting they were too dense to appreciate what he'd done for them, namely the $787 billion economic stimulus package he pushed through earlier in his term:
“I have been amused a little over the past couple of days where people have been having these rallies about taxes...You would think they would be saying ‘thank you.’ That’s what you’d think.”
Columnist Charles Krauthammer was typically direct in his criticism of President Obama's statements:
"I think it was Obama with his usual condescension, except he ratcheted it up to Code Orange and to snootiness. That's where he is now, where he looks down his nose at the 'gun and God' crowd, the lumpenproletariat as he sees it, and he ridicules them because they're not grateful enough to him. And look, it's quite obvious what he's talking about. He thinks that they are stupid because they don't recognize that he hasn't raised their taxes.
"So it's a fact, and I think it's sort of in his character to ridicule. Look, this is the man, on the day that he won the Democratic nomination, [who] said that day would mark a day on which the earth began to heal and the oceans recede, so he does not have a low opinion of himself."
A few weeks prior to his comments in Miami, he made fun of those who opposed his health care reforms and warned of dire consequences if they were enacted:
"So after I signed the bill, I looked around to see if there were any asteroids falling, or some cracks opening up in the Earth. Turned out it was a nice day. Birds were chirping, folks were strolling down the mall, people still had their doctors."
Let me establish a point of reference here. When it comes to political discourse, I take a different view of the dialog among the political class and others who make a living in the world of politics, or are leaders or influencers of policy.
If they want to mock one another, call each other names, condescend, or otherwise engage in negative commentary, more power to them. It comes with the territory, and they knew the job was dangerous when they took it.
Those Americans who long for the days when political discourse was respectful and civil will have to show me when such cordiality ever existed. Negative politics is a time-honored American tradition, and the 1828 presidential campaign is regarded by many historians as one of the dirtiest in American history. By the time of the inauguration, Andrew Jackson, the victor, blamed the illness and death just a few months before of his wife, Rachel, on the vitriol directed at him and his wife by his opponent, President John Quincy Adams, and his supporters.
Mr. Jackson refused to pay President Adams the requisite courtesy call at the White House in the weeks prior to the transfer of power, and Mr. Adams refused to join President Jackson for the inauguration. Both actions were major breaches of protocol. reflecting the very bad blood between the two.
The history of negative politics in America is well chronicled, and will amuse or dismay you, but we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking there was once a golden age of sweetness and light, where never was heard a discouraging word. As former President Bill Clinton is always fond of saying, "Politics ain't beanbag." That the negativity seems more pervasive has more to do with 21st century technology than an increase in the number and nature of personal attacks. Blame the Internet, with its power to democratize and demonize at digital speed.
So if negative politics are par for the course inside the arena, how does President Obama differ?
He's taking aim at ordinary Americans outside the arena, citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, many of whom voted for him and all of whom are his constituents. Maybe he believes since they've chosen to become active and speak out, that places them in the arena and makes them fair game.
Contrast his mocking and sarcastic tone toward regular folks who disagree with him to the reaction of his predecessor, President George W. Bush, to the virulent and sometimes violent anti-war protests of his administration.
President Bush was portrayed as Hitler, an ape, or Satan, and they regularly called for his impeachment or advocated his death. He was burned in effigy and signs displayed foul language in criticizing him. Moreover, these mean-spirited actions were more in the mainstream of the anti-war movement than the fringe racist elements linked by the media elites to the Tea Party protests.
So how did President Bush respond? Here's an example.
While speaking at a ceremony for newly naturalized American citizens, he was interrupted by nine protesters who shouted obscenities and called him a "fascist." One woman made a beeline toward the stage before being stopped by security personnel. An ABC News reporter at the scene recorded the President's response:
"The President paused in his remarks and then responded, 'To my fellow citizens, we believe in free speech in the United States of America.'"
In all situations that I can recall, President Bush's typical response to protests was to extol the virtues of our republic's Bill of Rights and its guarantees of free speech, assembly and petition. He may have chafed at his citizen critics in private, but he showed them deference and respect in public because he understood he was President of the United States, not President of Americans Who Agree With Me.
President Obama mocks the everyday Americans in the Tea Party movement at his own peril. Some news organizations are rediscovering their integrity, and taking a second look at the Tea Party movement, and they're seeing it with new eyes. They are realizing the caricature created by the vein-bulging class of politicians, pundits and partisans, is patently false, as a black CNN news producer traveling with the Tea Party Express discovered:
"[H]ere's what you don't often see in the coverage of Tea Party rallies: Patriotic signs professing a love for country; mothers and fathers with their children; African-Americans proudly participating; and senior citizens bopping to a hip-hop rapper. ... It is important to show the colorful anger Americans might have against elected leaders and Washington. But people should also see the orange-vested Tea Party hospitality handlers who welcome you with colorful smiles.
"There were a few signs that could be seen as offensive to African-Americans. But by and large, no one I spoke with or I heard from on stage said anything that was approaching racist.
"Almost everyone I met was welcoming to this African-American television news producer."
A recent survey revealed that four in ten Tea Party members are Democrats or independents, the very people who put President Obama in office. His mocking tone, then, is directed not only at people who would never vote for him, but also those who voted for him and are disappointed in his policies. It's much harder to label them as racist or partisan, isn't it?
NPR analyst and Fox News contributor Juan Williams warned the President and his supporters of the consequences of demonizing and mocking this grass-roots movement:
"There is danger for Democrats in recent attempts to dismiss the Tea Party movement as violent racists deserving of contempt...Demonizing these folks may energize the Democrats' left-wing base...But it is a big turnoff to voters who have problems with the Democratic agenda that have nothing to do with racism."
Ultimately, President Obama should reflect on the prayer he allegedly left at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem during his campaign visit to Israel, and seek God's strength to overcome his pride, because in the heat of battle, our resolve often falters:
Lord, Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.
The Book of Proverbs, the book of wisdom, says, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” President Obama is an intelligent man, but he should seek God’s wisdom rather than that of man.
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
Somehow, given his ego and the sycophants who shower him with adoration, I have a feeling this will be a greater challenge for him than enacting the health care bill into law.