Obamateurism of the Day

Remember when it was cool to get in opponents’ faces and argue politics? Alas, my friends, those heady days have long gone by; they ended 470 days ago, to be accurate. Barack Obama offered this advice to graduates at the University of Michigan commencement this weekend:

You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. (Applause.) Throwing around phrases like “socialists” and “Soviet-style takeover” and “fascist” and “right-wing nut” — (laughter) — that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.

Now, we’ve 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. But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse. And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized. Remember, they signed up for it. Michelle always reminds me of that. (Laughter.) 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.

Well, as Obamateurism follower Jim M pointed out to me in an e-mail, that’s certainly much different advice than Obama offered during the presidential campaign. In September 2008, Obama wanted people to argue with his opponents and “get in their face”:

Even without the contrast, the commencement speech advice was notable for its whiny self-victimology. Suddenly, after eight years of “Bushitler” and “Darth Cheney,” Obama has discovered that it’s not very much fun being the center of harsh criticism. The Left has called the Right “fascist” since Obama was in grade school — and they have busied themselves with calling conservatives “racists” without a peep from the Marquess de Baracksbury during an entire year of Tea Party activism. For no particular reason, Obama chose this venue to cry about critics calling his government encroachment on personal choices in health care and massive spending programs “socialism.”

Remember when we used to call Bill Clinton the Big Me? Maybe we should call Obama Maxi-Me.

Got an Obamateurism of the Day? If you see a foul-up by Barack Obama, e-mail it to me at [email protected] with the quote and the link to the Obamateurism. I’ll post the best Obamateurisms on a daily basis, depending on how many I receive. Include a link to your blog, and I’ll give some link love as well. And unlike Slate, I promise to end the feature when Barack Obama leaves office.

Illustrations by Chris Muir of Day by Day. Be sure to read the adventures of Sam, Zed, Damon, and Jan every day!