Obama Treads Lightly on "Civility"

Posted: Jan 25, 2011 11:31 PM
After applauding President Obama for his deft and appropriate handling of the "civility" red herring in the immediate aftermath of the Tucson shootings, many conservatives were concerned over indications from the White House that he'd revisit the subject in his State of the Union Address.  One of the objections I had to tonight's bipartisan seating experiment was that it advanced the implication that rancorous partisanship somehow contributed to the massacre, which is untrue.  The president opened his speech with a nice tribute to Rep. Giffords and the other victims, then briefly sounded a few soft notes on bipartisanship and cooperation:

It’s no secret that those of us here tonight have had our differences over the last two years. The debates have been contentious; we have fought fiercely for our beliefs. And that’s a good thing. That’s what a robust democracy demands. That’s what helps set us apart as a nation.

But there’s a reason the tragedy in Tucson gave us pause. Amid all the noise and passions and rancor of our public debate, Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference.

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.

That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation.

Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

I believe we can. I believe we must. That’s what the people who sent us here expect of us. With their votes, they’ve determined that governing will now be a shared responsibility between parties. New laws will only pass with support from Democrats and Republicans. We will move forward together, or not at all – for the challenges we face are bigger than party, and bigger than politics.

That's all well and good, but it intentionally ignores an important point: President Obama often claimed to crave bipartisan compromise on the campaign trail and during his first two years in office.  Yet time after time -- from "stimulus" to healthcare -- Republicans were ignored and shut out of the legislative process.  Obama said he was "open to" Republican ideas, then promptly discarded those very ideas when they were raised (tort reform, 1099 repeal, paying for unemployment benefit extensions with unused stimulus funds, etc). 

Democrats were more than happy to run roughshod over their opponents when they ran the show, so tonight's paeans to unity were thoroughly unconvincing.