Somewhere in our president's short inaugural address last week (it only seemed long), our newly re-elected chief executive paused to deliver a pious little sermon on the evils of name-calling -- and for good measure, the evils of delay, spectacle and absolutism, too.
The Rev. Obama crammed all those sins into a couple of sentences that might have passed for a mini-homily from some less-gifted televangelist:
"For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate."
Well said, at least for an absolutist who would like his own program approved without delay. And for the country's No. 1 political celebrity -- someone who's no slouch himself at staging spectacles like a presidential inauguration. Complete with ruffles and flourishes and high school bands from all over playing fanfares.
As for name-calling, this president's rhetoric has not been devoid of that political staple. As when, shortly before his re-inauguration, he held a press conference at which he accused the opposition of just about every conceivable sin but putting innocent children at risk. (He saved that one for his press conference a couple of days later about his gun-control proposals.) He did say, among other hostile things, that the GOP was "crashing the American economy" and holding it for "ransom" in order to get its way in budget negotiations, and is "consumed with partisan brinkmanship."
Nothing partisan about Mr. Obama and the Democrats, of course. It's the Republicans who are "holding a gun at the head of the American people" because they don't like "government's commitments ... to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older." Those mean Republicans aren't crazy about kids, either, or at least poor ones: "They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat," and, when they aren't snatching those free lunches out of children's mouths, they're not sure whether government "should be spending money on medical research...."
For someone who's opposed to name-calling, he's pretty good at it. He somehow manages to preach against name-calling while practicing it. No doubt he's absolutely opposed to absolutism, too.
Another of the Rev. Obama's specialties is doubting the motives of anyone who takes issue with him. Plugging his gun-control program a few days before his inauguration, our president didn't just go after Republicans but anyone who might express doubts about any part of it, and it's got lots of parts. And lots of critics. But he lumps them all together as people not to be trusted.
Fine distinctions have never appealed to the demagogue; they just get in the way of his high-powered rhetoric, which has all the precision of any other scattershot blast. As in this attack on any and all who won't rubber-stamp his gun-control agenda: "There will be pundits and politicians and special-interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical all-out assault on liberty, not because that's true but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves." In contrast no doubt to his own motives, which are always pure. Even as he campaigns against name-calling by calling names.
Let this be said about our president: He always sounds sincere. If he ever tires of his day job, he might try acting. Which reminds me that the Greek word for actor is the root of an English one: hypocrite.