“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”
“But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”
-President Barack Hussein Obama, Tucson, Arizona, January 12, 2011
When much of the country is looking at the President with new eyes in light of the scandalpalooza that the Administration is mired in, in which deliberately discriminatory behavior against “those who think differently” than those in government and in the White House by several “independent” agencies, as well as lingering questions about Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the AP wiretaps, and the deliberate and intrusive surveillance on questionable grounds of James Rosen and other FOX reporters, and a weak defense that amounts to “We’re incompetent, not evil.”, it would be tempting to sort through the details of each to determine which is this Administration’s biggest failure. If you were to pursue this inquiry, it wouldn’t be without good cause, but it would be missing the elephant in the room.
The Tucson speech, which I would grudgingly admit was one of the best and most appropriate of his Presidency should also be counted as the indicator of his greatest failure. While he actually talked about the emotions America was feeling, and speaking honorably, and touchingly of the dead, he also managed to keep from making it about himself, and his wife (Contrast this with his memorial speech after the Boston Marathon bombing to see exactly what I mean.) While his call for a return to civility in our discourse sounded hollow coming from someone with his record and campaign rhetoric, it turned out to be an opportunity wasted.
If the President, or his advisors had even a shred of self-awareness, they might have decided to treat it as an “Only Nixon could go to China.” moment, and deliberately choose to do something that he has never chosen to do his entire time in office: Lead ALL the American people, rather than calling himself a great uniter when he is in fact a Great Divider.
I could try to rationalize this by observing that old habits die hard, and being a graduate of the school of Chicago politics, it would require too much of any man. But the fact is, that after observing his “leadership” for five years, I realize that he needs to be able to blame someone, anyone when nothing changes, when things don’t go as he planned, or when the situation requires leadership he is unable to provide. Such a man isn’t capable of recognizing that this speech provided him and us with an opportunity for a lasting legacy that doesn’t require any government action at all. This was a chance to do something that wouldn’t cost a thing, and would have gone a very long way toward ameliorating the “polarization” that he lamented. But he didn’t, and instead his legacy will be one of encouraging the public revelations of ugliness and hypocrisy by his supporters, such as Lizz Winstead, who in their smugness reveal a lack of compassion and desire for the diversity they pretend to champion with statements like her deleted tweet about the Moore, OK tornado yesterday.
Thanks to his unwillingness to practice what he preached, the world is an uglier place today, and out of his legacy of failure, this may be the most enduring and damaging to the nation.