An idea has been percolating in my head for some time and the other day it finally went off like a light bulb.
It’s this notion of what I’m calling “personal attack politics.” A lot of people are spending a lot of time and effort to convince me that:
President Barack Obama is a bad person.
Eye catching, isn’t it? I guess it isn’t too surprising that some would be out peddling a message like this in our fast-paced, talking point, sound-bite culture.
Imagine, if you will, that you are the teacher for a debate class. Two of your students are given an assignment called The Great Food Debate: One student is pro-hamburger and the other is pro-hot dog. This is going to be one interesting debate!
Hamburger kid goes first and talks about the popularity of hamburgers, how round patties are more efficient than cylindrical-shaped meat, says that hamburgers had better condiment containment, and even has data and graphs to illustrate his points.
The other kid, however, doesn’t talk about hot dogs at all. He starts off by saying that his opponent’s father is an alumni and donated money to the school and that’s the only reason he’s even in this debate. He talks about how “everyone” on campus considers his opponent to be a super nerd and makes fun of the way he’s dressed. And in his closing argument he says that anyone who votes for his opponent is a big nerd, too.
After watching this “debate” and as the teacher of the class, would you feel proud if your students voted the hot dog kid as the winner? I don’t think so.
Personal attacks do little to further understanding in a debate. Nothing that the hot dog kid had to say offered any information or rebuttal regarding the factual claims about hamburgers made by his opponent.
Personal attacks have been around for a long time. In Latin they are known as ad hominem.
So what are some of the personal attacks against Obama:
- He uses a teleprompter.
- He’s an empty suit.
- He’s too smooth.
- He came from the Chicago “machine.”
- He bowed to someone, or he shouldn’t have bowed, or he bowed too deeply.
- He’s a socialist.
- He wants to destroy America.
- He’s a “militant racist.”
If you need more examples of ad hominem (and sometimes not-so-veiled threats of violence) against Obama, just look for the most offensive signs at tea party rallies and such:
- I didn’t vote for the socialist – you can keep the change
- Fire Line Do Not Cross: If Brown can’t stop it a Browning can (includes picture of a handgun)
- We came unarmed (this time)
- One Big Ass Mistake America
- You Can’t Fix Stupid – But You Can Vote It Out – Change Is Brewing
- Freedom Will Be Defended
- Revolt Against Socialism
- Obama is a Very Bad Man (link)
- Obama’s Plan: White Slavery
These are the same signs that, when singled out after the fact for criticism, we’re told, “Oh, that sign doesn’t represent the movement.” Yet, somehow, the people holding those signs are never asked to leave or take down their signs by the other tea party protesters all around them. I’ve never heard a single story about an offensive sign being removed from a tea party event. Those signs being allowed to remain represents the tacit consent of those in the vicinity and the movement itself.
In the interest of fairness, I just googled up one example of a sign ejection. Yeah! A guy who is a tea party activist and runs a tea party web site and claimed to be a tea party “founder” was apparently kicked out of a Houston tea party event last year for an offensive sign. I won’t bother to repeat it here.
Politics can be murky and messy. “A tax cut for the wealthiest among us is the best way to help America!” That’s what Bush said (and did) in early 2001. Agree with it or not, at least it is a “factual claim” that can be debated.
I believe that if we want what is best for our country we need more discussion of the issues and less time spent on personal attacks. Keep an eye out for the personal attacks on Obama. If you filter those out, you might be surprised how little those that are throwing the attacks really have to say.