In January 2011, President Obama spoke at a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona to honor the victims of a massacre that left 6 people dead, including a federal judge and a 9 year-old girl and left 13 others wounded, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who suffered a grievous gunshot wound to the head.
Liberals, including the editorial writers at the New York Times, were quick to link the mayhem to conservative hate speech, even though it turned out that the gunman was a mentally unstable young man who by all accounts had no interest in politics of any kind.
The president, doing his best to keep politics and partisanship out of his talk, was eloquent, as he called for civility and decency in our national conversation.
“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized,” he said, “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.”
He also said, “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.”
Some of us were naïve enough to believe he meant it. And maybe he did. Then.
The other day, just before the Michigan legislature voted in a new right-to-work law that infuriated labor leaders, a state Democratic Representative, speaking on the House floor, said, “There will be blood, there will be repercussions.”
“There will be blood.” Was that just an unfortunate figure of speech? Or was it the kind of angry language that President Obama had warned us against? Whichever it was, Mr. Obama, who opposed the Michigan legislation, which he deemed anti-union, said nothing about this incivility. If he was worried about where that kind of bloody rhetoric might lead, he wasn’t sharing it with the American people.
Then, right after the vote, Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa told CNN that, “This is just the first round of a battle that’s going to divide this state. We’re going to have a civil war.”
By the way, this was the same Jimmy Hoffa who, during a campaign rally in Detroit this year, said his union was ready to “go to war” for the president and “take out these son of a bitches” who oppose Mr. Obama and Big Labor.
When the president came on stage, he said nothing about the tone or the incivility of his friend, Mr. Hoffa.
Meanwhile, at the state capital in Lansing, union thugs, in between dropping F-bombs at a rally protesting the new law, repeatedly punched a conservative supporter of the law in the face, while another man threatened to kill him with a gun.
So far, the president has said nothing about this incident, either — perhaps because these were goons who helped get him re-elected last month.
Let’s remember what President Obama said in Tucson. “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.”
Whatever else one may think of this president, he’s good with words. Even when that’s all they are – empty, meaningless words.