In Defense of Disagreement

Posted: Feb 06, 2009 2:28 PM
In Defense of Disagreement

Flush with power from victory, his ego puffed by an adoring press and buoyed by a celebrity hype machine, President Barack Obama has taken to caricaturizing his opponents as malevolent enemies of the good. The good, of course, would be the president and his agenda.

One major enemy would be radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh. In a January interview with Sean Hannity, and on episodes of his own show, Limbaugh has asserted that he wants Obama to fail. The liberal-media demagogues who promptly pounced on these remarks missed what Rush was really saying, as usual.

Here are some choice words: "If I wanted Obama to succeed, I'd be happy the Republicans have laid down. And I would be encouraging Republicans to lay down and support him. Look, what he's talking about is the absorption of as much of the private sector by the U.S. government as possible, from the banking business to the mortgage industry, the automobile business to health care. I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work."

Limbaugh received heavy fire for his remarks. But what's wrong with them? To say anything else would have been a surrender and capitulation of the ideas he's spent the last 20 years of his life articulating and defending.

No one should be forced to throw out their principles just because they disagree with a popular president. Limbaugh and all happy warriors must continue to work hard advocating for their beliefs, no matter how fierce the tide is against them. As Limbaugh explained on his show, "Why is it any different, what's new, what is unfair about my saying I hope liberalism fails? Liberalism is our problem."

But it wasn't just Limbaugh the lightning rod that so angered the ascendant left. Two weeks into the Obama administration, reporters from Politico sat down with former vice president Dick Cheney. "Cheney warns of new attacks," the headline read, causing many Obama fans to condemn the man as a virulent scaremonger. Again, self-righteous fury has clouded the left's vision, blinding it to the values of context.

In the interview, Cheney asserted that keeping America secure is "a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business." He remarked about terrorists: "These are evil people. And we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek."

Cheney speaks from experience here. And I believe the former vice president expects the new administration will soon lessen its hubristic and high-minded tone once it starts receiving the sobering sort of intelligence reports that Cheney and the Bush team read for eight years.

Cheney is not a man looking to score a cheap partisan shot. This is a devoted public servant who saw the smoke from the Pentagon on 9/11. When he voices concern, it's not that he's hoping for an attack, or aiming to intimidate a rookie president and his team -- he's genuinely worried about his country. Obama might consider that the Republican politicians who disagree with his grand plans feel the same way.

Americans are looking for leadership. And leadership does not consist of chucking principle after every election cycle. Obama and the Dems need to understand that, though they now govern in the majority, they are not the only party in town, and that the opposing party represents real people with viable viewpoints, as well. The new administration must consider the principled criticisms of its Republican opponents instead of unleashing polarizing rhetoric.

This will be especially important when it comes to the extremely controversial economic stimulus plan, another radical reworking of the free-market system that could change this country for generations. But pass it must, the president has proclaimed. "No plan is perfect, and we should work to make it stronger... But let's not make the perfect the enemy of the essential." House and Senate Republicans, and the folks they represent, are not the nation's "enemies"; they are simply citizens with very reasonable, solid objections to many of the plan's provisions, and America cannot afford to have the Democratic claque dismiss them out of hand. For a change, Obama must stop demonizing his opponents. A wise president would rush to do it.