Obama in the Big House

Obama woke me up Saturday morning. The helicopter taking him from Detroit Metro Airport to Ann Arbor, where he was scheduled to deliver the University of Michigan commencement address, went right over my house, rattling the windows, and making the dog go apoplectic.

A friend had offered me commencement tickets, but I was lazy. I turned them down. I didn’t want to make my way through the gauntlet of teabaggery, only to be frisked, stand in line with 80,000 other folks, and wait for hours. I chose instead to stay in bed, until, that is, our house got buzzed by Marine One, at which point I made may way downstairs to watch the speech on my computer, and follow along as my less-phobic friends emailed updates from the stadium.

I heard from a friend early on that one of the protesting Tea Party folks outside the stadium said the rain was a sign from God that he – the Lord – was displeased with Obama’s radical agenda… If I’d been there, I would have loved to have followed up later and asked said Tea Bagger what God was hoping to convey to us when, just as Obama was entering the stadium, the weather cleared and the sun began peaking out. I wonder if maybe it means that God’s a… dare I say it… Socialist.

Obama, as always, did a great job with the speech. My favorite parts, as you might have guessed, were the segments in which he called out his disingenuous critics. Here’s one of those parts from the transcript:

…So what we should be asking is not whether we need a “big government” or a “small government,” but how we can create a smarter, better government. In an era of iPods and Tivo, where we have more choices than ever before, government shouldn’t try to dictate your lives. But it should give you the tools you need to succeed. Our government shouldn’t try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who’s willing to work hard.

The point is, we can and should debate the role of government in our lives, but remember, as you are asked to meet the challenges of our time, that the ability for us to adapt our government to the needs of the age has helped make our democracy work since its inception.

The second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. These arguments we’re having over government and health care and war and taxes are serious arguments. They should arouse people’s passions, and it’s important for everyone to join in the debate, with all the rigor that a free people require.

But we cannot 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. You can question someone’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. Throwing around phrases like “socialist” and “Soviet-style takeover;” “fascist” and “right-wing nut” may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, or our political opponents, to authoritarian, and even murderous regimes.

Again, we have seen this kind of politics in the past. It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth.

The problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized.

The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning – since after all, why should we listen to a “fascist” or “socialist” or “right wing nut?” It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate that we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response…

And here’s video of the speech:

One last thing… As good as he did in Ann Arbor, he did even better at the White House Correspondents Dinner later that evening, where, after saying that his approval ratings were much better in the country of his birth, he threatened to send a Predator drone after the Jonas Brothers… Now, that would be some change that I could believe in.

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  1. Posted May 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

    The comments at AnnArbor.com are fun. I like this one.

    Worst president in a hundred years visits Michigan. Did he have any advice about how these poor kids can survive the Euro socialist economy he was ramming down their throats? LOL Enjoy your IRS managed health care, massive debt and crippling taxes during you 60 years of work. …and God help you if you earn more then the government says you deserve! …yet Ann Arbor celebrates…

  2. qwa
    Posted May 2, 2010 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    my favorite line was “it’s nice to live ‘above the shop’– the commute to work is easy.” it just makes me smile every time i think of it.

  3. Kim
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    Personally, I’d prefer the Jonas Brothers to be water boarded.

  4. Kim
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    The dude is unflappable. Seriously. He’s got to be pissed as hell at the Tea Party lunatics, but he stands there and says calmly that these kinds of things have always been with us. Instead of attacking back, he puts it into historical perspective, and then he encourages us to get to know one another. It’s amazing to watch.

  5. Brent
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I’m still not used to the president acting so, well, presidential after 8 years of deluded cowboy foot-in-mouth hubris.

  6. Kevin Phillips
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    Imagine packing a plane full of Jonas Brothers, Justin Beibers, Molly Ray Cyri, and their ilk, and landing it in the heart of the lawless region of Pakistan we keep hearing about. How cool would that be? Best reality show EVAR!

  7. jfs
    Posted May 3, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Jokes about murder from an actual murderer.

    Not only bad taste on his part, but also rather Dubya-esque. Then again, why am I surprised?

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