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Like most of you, I learned about the President's press conference engagement with Ed Henry of Fox News from progressive radio and blogs who trumpeted the President's response as a beat down of right wing talking points.  It felt good, for a moment, but upon reflection I now see a tremendous opportunity to shift public debate that was missed, as it has been for years now.  Please hear me out.

The exchange went like this:

Ed Henry.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to follow up on Israel and Iran because you have said repeatedly you have Israel’s back.  And so I wonder why, three years in office, you have not visited Israel as President.  And related to Iran and Israel, you have expressed concern about this loose talk of war, as you call it, driving up gas prices further.  Your critics will say on Capitol Hill that you want gas prices to go higher because you have said before, that will wean the American people off fossil fuels, onto renewable fuels.  How do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think the President of the United States going into reelection wants gas prices to go up higher?  (Laughter.)  Is that -- is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?

(Emphasis Added)

This was cited as a smack down.  A direct refutation of right-wing talking points and of the right wing messenger that Ed Henry has become.  Sure.  Why not.  Feels good, just watch.  

But, what if the exchange had gone like this instead:

Ed Henry.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to follow up on Israel and Iran because you have said repeatedly you have Israel’s back.  And so I wonder why, three years in office, you have not visited Israel as President.  And related to Iran and Israel, you have expressed concern about this loose talk of war, as you call it, driving up gas prices further.  Your critics will say on Capitol Hill that you want gas prices to go higher because you have said before, that will wean the American people off fossil fuels, onto renewable fuels.  How do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Ed, just when did it become a legitimate perspective that the President of the United States would EVER work to the detriment of the Country...that the President of the United States would EVER want to harm our economy or the self-interests of its people.  Ed, THAT is the story you should be covering because something has changed in the political dialogue of this great nation, a change that has eroded our ability to engage in honest debate, debate that our Founding Fathers enshrined in the very fabric of our government because they recognized the essential function that debate plays as a means of finding common ground and the best solutions for a democracy.  Just this week we witnessed how honest, well-intentioned testimony to Congress by a Georgetown Law Student was turned into a brutal personal attack that has echoed across right wing radio ... an attack that was completely beyond the pale and served only to destroy the basis upon which political conversation can even take place.  Ed, THAT is the story here.  THAT is why our country is so polarized, so divided, and so unable to find common ground and real solutions for the American people.

(Emphasis & Fantasy Presidential Response Added)

That tactic, "de-legitimization" is an every day tool in the arsenal of our right-wing counterparts.  It is why we can no longer embrace anything "liberal".  It is what they did to Al Gore when he had the temerity to roll his eyes during the 2000 presidential debates.  It is what they did to Howard Dean after the "Dean Scream".  You see, once a behavior or a person is de-legitimized, then it is safe to ignore the messenger...just put your hands over your ears and say "Nanny nanny boo boo, I can't hear you."  Did we continue our conversations about global warming after Al Gore was de-legitimized as a "pompous know-it-all"?  Did we continue our debate about health care after Howard Dean was de-legitimized as "unstable and crazy"?  No.  De-legitimization silences.  A de-legitimized voice no longer has a seat at the table.  Yes, it has been abused by the right as a way of silencing the left, and that has been maddening, but you have to admit, it has been very, very effective.  

The President should take a lesson from the right.  Their political discourse has no legitimate role to play.  It is destructive and erodes the very principles upon our government and our success as a people depends.  Time to call them out for it and place them squarely on the wrong side of the border between these long held democratic principles and the hatred that their voices represent.  If they want a seat at the table, then it will be incumbent upon them to either change their behavior or win the un-winnable argument that democracy can succeed without honest debate that proceeds from a perspective of respect for your political opponent's intentions and views.  De-legitimization is the right tool for the task at hand, the appropriate tool.

I've no doubt there will be plenty of opportunities for it in the weeks and months to come.  O.K.  Fantasy over.

Poll

Was this a missed opportunity?

25%4 votes
62%10 votes
6%1 votes
6%1 votes

| 16 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well That's Not His Style. But In a Sense What (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    FG

    he did was a form of de-legitimization.

    McDonald's restaurants gave the same kind of response some 30+ years ago when rumors were flying that they were cutting their hamburger with worm meat. They showed that the cost of worm meat was more expensive than hamburger.

    Obama's response shows the entire question has no credibility. That's not especially good for the questioner. But for better or worse it's not his style to paint entire political blocks as illegitimate. It's not an opportunity that was his to miss.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 07:45:56 AM PDT

    •  Agreed that "Obama's response shows the entire... (0+ / 0-)

      question has no credibility", but neither does an entire branch of discourse that the right is engaging in.  By pointing the finger at that discourse, the President would help to isolate it and begin to silence it.  

      I am not asserting that the President should try to paint the entire Republican block as illegitimate, just the wing (primarily Tea Partiers, Ann Coulters, Rush Limbaugh, TNR folks, etc.) that adds nothing to the debate but poison.  They make it impossible for the rest of their party to engage in honest debate that could lead to bipartisan compromises.

  •  Good point. Presidents don't usually talk that way (0+ / 0-)

    And I understand why they don't (they leave it to subordinates). But yes, that would have been good for the mainstream reporters in the press room to hear.

    My forthcoming book Obama's America: A Transformative Vision of Our National Identity will be published in Summer 2012 by Potomac Books.

    by Ian Reifowitz on Sun Mar 11, 2012 at 07:46:14 AM PDT

    •  I think the discourse has become so poisoned (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OleHippieChick, Ian Reifowitz

      that the President should play an active role in trying to correct things.  The right is constantly asserting that the President is actively working to destroy the economy, to make America less safe, to shred the constitution, etc. etc.  Their perspective makes it impossible to even enter the debate, let alone come to some sort of bipartisan solution.

      I don't think subordinates speak with the moral authority that the President possesses.  The President can confront this issue much more effectively, but that is a choice he would have to make.

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