Our Lecturer-in-Chief demands we do as he says, not as he does. During his University of Michigan commencement address, Barack Obama assumed the professorial role and began lecturing Americans on how to behave: "Now, the second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. . But we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it."
While the idea of a civil debate is certainly appealing, Barack Obama has done more to damage civility in public discourse than any presidency in 40 years. Obama is the first president since Richard Nixon to personally launch verbal assaults on his enemies. His administration is willing to attack anyone who dares to stand up against them. They employ the shockingly un-presidential strategy of going after their critics by name. Robert Gibbs, the president's acid tongue spokesman, attacked CNBC reporter Rick Santelli after less than a month in office.
Obama then joins Gibbs by personally lashing out at critics. Obama is even willing to go after his allies that don't fall in line. "Don't think we're not keeping score, brother," Obama famously told Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon.
Obama has issued scores of scathing personal attacks. He attacked Mitch McConnell as being in bed with Wall Street. He claimed John Boehner was a healthcare Chicken Little. He said Sarah Palin is "not exactly an expert on nuclear issues," and called Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh a "troublesome" twosome spreading "vitriol."
Obama's comedy also has a political bite to it. Rather than employing the strategy of most recent presidents of engaging in self-deprecating humor, Obama makes fun of others. He tells jokes mocking Sarah Palin, Scott Brown, John Boehner, Charlie Crist and Mitt Romney.
Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for Democrats and Republicans, and a joke writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and both Bushes) says, "With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up. . Something in [Obama's] humor didn't do that."
Even Nancy Pelosi has told Obama to cool his critiques of Washington, D.C. Pelosi and other Democrats in the House are concerned that he is throwing them under the bus to save his own reputation. Obama is more concerned about preserving his own image and re-election prospects than he is about supporting his party in 2010.
Even Obama's most reliable allies, the formerly dominant mainstream media, are beginning to take notice. Josh Gerstein and Patrick Gavin of Politico report: "Reporters say the White House is thin-skinned, controlling, eager to go over their heads and stingy with even basic information." When the friendly press takes notice, there must really be a big problem.
It's easy for the president to lecture about the lack of civility in politics, but when his administration is one of the most vicious voices in modern history those lectures are hypocritical. If Obama really wants to raise the public discourse he ought to start the cleaning in his own White House.