Lay Off Obama

Sometimes I think we elected Barack Obama president only in order to abuse him. You can disagree about the kind of job he has been doing for the past six years. I happen to believe he has been a remarkable leader -- patient, thoughtful, dignified, unruffled -- under very trying circumstances. But instead of recognizing the enormous complications of decision-making in our time, his critics on the Left and Right have been using his deliberations as a stimulus for a hailstorm of personal insult. And it all seems so contradictory. Obama has been charged both with waffling and impetuosity, weakness and imperiousness, consistency and inconsistency, being too black and not black enough, persecuting the one percent and favoring Wall Street. Take the Middle East, where he has managed with the utmost difficulty to extricate us from the blunders of the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield administration only to be hounded by Congress to replicate these disastrous decisions in Syria, Egypt, and Iran.

Or consider the remarks Obama just made at the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. I hope I am not alone in thinking that this may have been the defining speech of his administration--almost equivalent in its rhetorical rhythms to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream," and perhaps even superior to that inspirational hallmark speech in its more complicated view of the racial divide. Yet, I have hardly heard a word of praise for his stirring delivery or balanced content, not even from the largely black audience whose applause seemed relatively restrained, nor from the New York Times, which in its news report called the event "choreographed" and the speech "more sober than stirring."

Not long ago I published a satire in The Huffington Post about how Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address might be criticized today by media critics on the Right (Fox News), Left (MSNBC), and Center (CNN), for being too professorial, calculating, and rhetorical for the ordinary citizen ("Four score and seven years ago" instead of "Eighty seven years ago," etc.), and for being delivered on such a wet day when nobody bothered to supply the press corps with umbrellas. The media's treatment of Obama's speech at the Lincoln Memorial ("on a day of overcast skies and misty rain") made me feel prophetic.

Can we lay off this personal abuse of our president, and give him some slack as he struggles with difficult, sometimes impossible decisions? I'm hardly saying that Obama's policies should not be open to debate and criticism, only that the constant ad hominem attacks on the man are becoming really repellent. If the presidency was once a bully pulpit, then the pulpiteers are now sitting out front bullying the president (just look at the surly faces, say, of Mitch McConnell and John Boehner in Washington, or Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity on TV, as contrasted with Obama's invariably decent, unruffled expression). I happen to think that after all the second-guessing, racial sneers, personal abuse, and, yes, shameless bullying, has evaporated into the sinkhole of oblivion, Barack Obama will go down as one of the most intelligent, compassionate, and visionary presidents in our history. Just look at what he has accomplished with little help from an obstructionist Republican Party or emasculated Democrats regarding health care, immigration and America's slow extrication from the booby traps of the Middle East. I don't expect many to agree with this assessment. But disagreement here as elsewhere in our politics must stop short of indecent assault.