President Barack Obama spoke today at the National Prayer Breakfast about the need to return to civility and see God in the faces of our political opponents. The president is by and large a brilliant speaker that commands attention and speaks with seeming insight and intelligence.
I emphasize the word “seeming.” Whenever any politician calls for a return to the good old days when people were civil to each other, politically or otherwise, I strain to find the mythical world they are referring to where civility and manners once reigned. In American history there has never been such a time. Immediately after the American Revolution that established our sovereign nation (hardly a civil parting from the British) George Washington was universally beloved and elevated to the presidency, but even he faced ugly editorials and political back biting from supposed friends.
In the presidential election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson and his good friend and newspaper editor Benjamin Franklin Bache engineered one of the ugliest and politically divisive negative campaigns our country has ever seen in an effort to unseat John Adams. A campaign that seriously injured the relationship of the previous friends and permanently embittered Abigail Adams toward Jefferson. Our national debates have included rebellions, wars, physical attacks within the congressional halls, lies, scandals, thievery, marches, riots, protests, and espionage. When we were not busying ourselves fighting foreign powers we were domestically hashing out immigration, slavery, reconstruction, suffrage, prohibition, the great depression, civil rights, and abortion. None of those issues are identified by the incredible spirit of civility they fostered among the political opponents or the people in general.
So as heartfelt as his appeal for civility may seem, President Obama needs to be honest about what he wants. He wants political opponents and pundits to lay off his presidency. He does not mind people being stirred up on a grass roots level as his ascension to the highest office was accomplished by tapping into a strong dissatisfaction with politicians. His own grassroots movement was the great wind of change. The Tea Party's grassroots movement is simple incivility.
The objector might say, “His campaign was built on hope and change and was not negative.” Well change from what? The bad guys that have ruined our country. The idiots who mismanaged our affairs. The evil “others” who messed all of this up and need to be removed. In order for candidate Obama to be a savior, there must be devils from which we need to be saved, and those are the “others” he so politely and routinely throws under the bus.
In the course of his speech, President Obama recalled the efforts of Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and William Wilberforce as examples of people who saw God in the faces of their enemies. Here is where President Obama's delusion is most apparent. He is so eager to cast himself in the light of those great men and see similarities in the resistance they faced that he misses the common thread that unites them and excludes him. It certainly was not their shared civility and gift of articulation.
Those men are remembered in high esteem because they refused to compromise basic principles in relation to the equality and value of all human life. They faced down injustice with courage and strength in the face of resistance that was well beyond common political incivility in declaring a whole race of human beings as less important than another. We honor them because we understand that it would have been easier for them to care less, but that the particular evils that confronted each of them demanded people of strength be willing to commit themselves to opposing those evils. Whether by design or in the course of those unfolding events, these men joined their lives to the struggle for freedom and equality for all time.
You do not join the ranks of those men by passing legislation that any old democrat at any time would champion if they held the presidency. You do it by recognizing that injustice and inequality are still present today and that a group of human beings are currently the victims of terrible inhumanity. The unborn human beings that are destroyed and exploited today, like all the powerless before them, are in need of men and women of courage to stand up and seek the recognition of their basic humanity.
President Obama could fight for them, but he seems more interested in finding a path that is paved with civility and good feelings. Unfortunately, history tells us that informing a society that we are morally corrupt in our treatment of fellow human beings, especially when the morally abhorrent treatment itself provides a seeming personal benefit, is not likely to invite the civility and support of our opponents. Just ask Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and William Wilberforce.
Given President Obama's track record on these issues, it would take one of the most startling political about faces ever witnessed to get him on the right side. This is a man who sees no contradiction in claiming that he is not qualified to address the humanity of unborn while implementing and supporting policy that expresses the most radical concepts of abortion on demand. That contradiction is maddeningly and obviously stupid. Such moral insensitivity is not likely to produce a man that will join the ranks of the great moral crusaders in history by confronting the great moral issue of our age while calling people to embrace what Lincoln referred to as the better angels of our nature.