Friday, January 14, 2011

Clearly not everyone has gotten the president's message about civility


White House photo by Pete Souza
By GARY BAUMGARTEN
I guess when you’re president of the United States, everything you say is suspect.
When President Obama addressed the memorial service for those killed in the Tuscon shootings Saturday, he was roundly accused by detractors for taking political advantage of the tragedy.
His uplifting comments about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ opening her eyes shortly after he and first lady Michelle Obama visited her hospital room was interpreted by some as his declaring himself a messiah or god. And his comments about civility were also analyzed by detractors as an implied attack on the right. Why doesn’t he speak up, they asked, when it’s the left that’s being uncivil.
Yet, his remarks didn’t single out one side or the other. In fact, he was careful to not ascribe political rhetoric for what happened in Tuscon.
Still, his remarks seem appropriate to me. It’s time to bring things down a notch or two, before another tragedy takes place – perhaps one that is sparked by the words of politicians and pundits.
Which brings me to Sarah Palin.
There are those, myself included, who feel that Palin’s campaign piece “targeting” the congressional districts of certain Democrats, including Giffords, with bullseyes, was irresponsible. Not to say that there was a cause and effect. Just saying that this kind of rhetoric could, perhaps, be misinterpreted by an unstable person as a signal to do something horrific.
Palin clearly bristled at that suggestion – and released a YouTube video accusing her critics of “blood libel.” Something that clearly doesn’t endear her to Jewish voters – who all-too-well know the real definition of the phrase.
But now, something’s happening that should cause those Obama detractors who reacted to Obama’s call for civility with disdain, to take notice. Palin has been the target of death threats on Twitter. Direct, unambiguous threats.
One would think that those who criticized Obama would now understand why he made those all-too-important remarks in Tuscon. But sadly many don’t. They just use this now as a reason to say, “see, it’s the liberals who are spewing hate, not conservatives.”
Don’t take my word for it. Just look at the 3,000 comments to the Fox News Channel story about the threats on Palin’s life.
What we are seeing here is partisanship at its worse. At times of crisis and tragedy, the nation typically puts partisanship aside and comes together as one. But not now. Both liberals and conservatives are trying to own this tragedy. To blame the other side for the toxic political atmosphere in the United States.
Some members of Congress are pledging to cross the aisle and sit with members of the other party during the president’s State of the Union address January 25. It’s a good, symbolic first step. Let’s see if they’re still crossing the aisle on January 26.

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