Obama's solemn call for unity
Those I spoke to at Thursday morning's National Prayer Breakfast agreed that President Obama seems to have aged a lot in this past year and that he was more solemn than usual. Unity was his theme, as it has been before, but there was new fervor in his plea for civility to those in Washington on both sides of the aisle who have been so divisive and uncompromising in their positions.
"There is a sense that something is different now: that something is broken: that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should," he said. "At times, it seems like we are unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate. And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens."
It couldn't have been an accident that one of the things the President had in mind was the outburst of Rep. Joe Wilson, the South Carolina Republican congressman who shouted "You lie!" during Obama's speech to Congress last fall. Wilson was one of the participants in the breakfast this morning. It turns out the and his Democratic colleague, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, are head of the House weekly prayer group.
Obama didn't stop there. He was sending a message not only to those who have disagreed with him over the past year, but especially to those who have conducted personal attacks on him. "It poisons the well of public opinion. It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other," he said. "It makes politics an all or nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong, when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on the truth."
The president clearly was reaching out to those who he felt could and should compromise, challenging , in his own way, his opponents for not being "Christian" in their behavior. He didn't have to use the word hypocrisy at the National Prayer Breakfast, where everyone was confessing to their faith (mostly Christian.)
Obama came to Washington singing this song, but it's obvious that he had no idea, even after serving two years in the Senate, that when the stakes here are so high, the level of partisan toxicity goes over the top. He seemed not exactly shocked but somehow surprised that things are so negative. "You can question my policies without questioning my faith," he said, "or my citizenship," he added, to laughter and applause. "When we challenge each other's motives, it becomes harder to see what we hold in common".
There was an urgency about the President's plea for unity: "Progress doesn't come when we demonize opponents," he said. "Progress comes when we look into the eyes of another and see the face of God."
In other words, it's time for politicians in Washington to practice what they preach. Is that possible?
Postscript: Obama said, "Civility is not a sign of weakness. " Take that Congressman Joe "You lie" Wilson.
Worth noting: Obama mentioned Joshua Dubois, the director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Parnterships, who has taken a lot of heat in the media recently for being ineffectual. "He's doing a great job," said the President, somewhat defensively. Obama singled out for praise Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who recommended lifting the ban on gays in the military.
The president also sharply criticized as "odious" proposed legislation in Uganda that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death or life in prison. It is "unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are," Obama said.
As he almost always does, Obama recognized those of other religions through whom "God's grace is expressed...Americans of every faith and no faith, uniting around a common purpose, a higher purpose."
Posted by: APaganplace | February 7, 2010 5:54 PM
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