Where Will Obama Go From Tucson?

January 13, 2011

President Obama is receiving uniform praise for his memorial remarks in Tucson, Ariz. Even conservatives are saying he hit the right notes, substantively and tonally. I agree, with a few qualifiers and gentle cautions.

Obama was eloquent in his tribute to the victims and appropriately acknowledged that “none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack … or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man’s mind.”

More importantly, he said: “But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. … Let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy; it did not.”

Bravo. I don’t know whether he was delicately reprimanding unhinged voices from the left in that statement or why, if he believes the blame game is damaging to the national psyche, he didn’t use his bully pulpit earlier to condemn the hysterical accusers of right-wing talk. But I’m grateful nevertheless for his gracious words, and I applaud him for them.

I also appreciated his and some of the other speakers’ elegant and fitting references to Scripture. I was a bit confused by his seemingly New Age admonition that we “use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations,” but to each his own.

All in all, we must be gracious in turn and applaud the president for choosing the high road on this most somber occasion, even if, regrettably, the atmosphere of the event was anything but appropriately somber and more closely resembled a political rally.

But where do we go from here? Where does Obama go from here?

I doubt that the political left will tone down its bellicose rhetoric — its clear effort to blame the shootings on right-wing thinking and expression. No less a prominent figure on the left than MSNBC’s Chris Matthews just suggested — again — that talk radio played a role in the shootings. More disturbingly, he said, “We can assume innocence in terms of Palin’s role or anything Glenn Beck said or anybody else, but you can’t exonerate them until we know the truth here.”

Exonerate them? They should never have been accused in the first place. So it’s outrageous for Matthews to lend further credence to the slanderous allegations by saying we can’t exonerate them until we know the truth. We already know enough facts to say that the accused killer, Jared Loughner, isn’t a bitter-clinging, Palin-following tea partyer. Matthews’ statement is reminiscent of the old Democratic line justifying the appointment of a special counsel to investigate alleged Republican corruption even when there was no evidence of it: “It’s the seriousness of the allegations, not the nature of the evidence, that’s important.”

Even Democratic luminary James Carville recognizes the resurrection of this tactic among his brethren, saying in a television interview, “Everything about the shootings points to politics except the evidence.” That’s a far cry from Matthews’ formulation, hmm?

So if we take Obama (and Carville) at his word, are we not entitled to assume and expect that Obama henceforth will resist from reinstituting his well-established pattern of demonizing his opponents with combative imagery, for example, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” or telling Hispanics to vote Democratic to “punish our enemies” or, most recently, identifying Republicans as “hostage takers” with whom he was “itching for a fight”?

I don’t know that Obama, the avowed Saul Alinskyite, is capable of switching gears and trying to govern in some other way than by targeting, isolating and demonizing his opponents, but his November “shellacking” may be causing him to reconsider, even if he doesn’t go so far as adopting Clintonian triangulation.

But the more important question involves Obama’s prospective position on freedom of political speech in this country. Will he truly distance himself from his leftist base’s conspiratorial scheme to silence voices on the right by attempting to link their speech to violence?

For let there be no mistake, the left has promoted a selective censorship syllogism at least as far back as Clinton’s opportunistic linkage of conservative talk radio to the Oklahoma City bombing. That syllogism is: Conservative talk is often hate speech; hate speech leads to violence; so conservative talk must be severely regulated.

That’s the rationale behind the left’s efforts to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, to promote network neutrality rules and to justify campus speech codes.

This march to “criminalize” conservative speech, I believe, began when liberals realized they had lost a monopoly on the media with the advent and explosive popularity of alternative media.

So, I’m willing to praise Obama for a fine speech. But will he follow his own words and lead his party away from its destructive efforts to silence its opponents?