President needs to hear, not belittle, opposing voices

Tuesday, September 29, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

The late and oft-quoted American journalist H. L. Mencken is noted for his acerbic wit — i.e. “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.” Appealing as it may be to pseudointellectuals and elitists, acting on this premise can result in political peril and be the death knell to a movement.

It is becoming more and more clear that, although charming the public as a charismatic and eloquent visionary in campaigning and initially as chief executive, the president and his administration have misjudged seriously a significant share of the voters. While the public welcomes wise and able leadership, no one relishes being thought backward or ignorant, ignored as irrelevant or taken for granted.

Either President Obama or his brain trust missed the first signal that things just might not be all peaches and cream out here in flyover country when, in a West Coast address, he referred to Ohio and Pennsylvania communities as people who "get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." This obvious faux pas was quickly glossed over in the campaign; nevertheless, the first seeds of doubt were sown.

The next largely ignored red flag was the April 2009 memo issued by the Department of Homeland Security assessing the domestic terrorist threat posed by “right wing extremists.” These dangerous critters and scalawags were identified as gun owners, anti-abortionists, returning veterans, members of the National Rifle Association and supporters of third-party candidates such as Ron Paul. Once again, the Obama administration undertook damage control to reassure the public, but those maligned tend to have long memories.

The obvious disdain for any and all opposition has accelerated with the dismissal of the "tea party" protests of inevitable tax increases to cover runaway government spending, town hall meetings to express concerns over “cap and rade” environmental policies and health care legislation, and the recent march on Washington as little more than the rants of rednecks, brainwashed conservatives and corporate “greed merchants.” The intent is clear: By denigrating the opposition as mindless, uninformed robots, led by Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the rest of the "vast right-wing conspiracy," the left appears convinced no one should dare take it seriously.

And, in further exacerbation of an already untenable breach, certain members of the media, former President Jimmy Carter and at least one legislator, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., have introduced the issue of race, opining openly that resistance to the president’s programs is based on his skin color. Clearly those in the seat of power have determined no intelligent, forward-thinking, loyal American citizen could possibly disagree with this administration — that the opposition is composed of gun-loving, Bible-toting “ditto heads” and bigots under the spell of corporate America’s neocon warmongers.

To be bluntly honest, the president is ill-advised and ill-used by his party, his handlers and the media. The print and broadcast media have accorded him the accolades usually reserved for Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt without waiting for them to be earned.

The congressional leadership, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have made no secret of their contempt for Republicans, an attitude contagious within the Democratic Party. Consequently, there has been little or no effort to coordinate or cooperate in drafting legislation.

Finally, the president did not do himself any favors in his speech before a joint session of Congress. Instead of providing definitive information to tie up loose ends as promised, he referred to opposing concerns as mere misinformation, demagoguery, falsehoods and a campaign of distortion. Rightly or wrongly, a considerable segment of the population has genuine doubts about massive government intervention into their affairs.

It may well be that, bolstered by a paucity of media criticism and the total adulation of loyal supporters, he may be overly confident of the oratorical skills and fresh approach that got him elected by Democrats, Republicans and independents. However, this attitude may be easily interpreted as arrogance and elitism — it is hardly good form to deem publicly that your opposition is misled, misinformed or ignorant.

Mr. President, you have some fences to mend. Democrats and Republicans will, in most cases, vote the party line — the sinking poll numbers are caused by the independents, those who elevated you to victory. They are making their concerns known to their legislators, who are listening. Perhaps it is time you listened to other than a tribunal of sycophants.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at


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Christopher Foote September 29, 2009 | 11:11 a.m.

I strongly disagree with this polemic against President Obama.
The Department of Homeland Security report that identified various right-wing extremist groups as sources of domestic terrorism was created at the request of the Bush administration:
Thus it predates Obama's presidency. Also it was not released as a memo, as the author states, it was intended for official use only, and disseminated to local law enforcement officials across the U.S, and was subsequently leaked. It was also fairly accurate, with respect to the killers Poplawski, Roeder, & von Brunn. If Mr. Miller wishes to conflate right-wing extremists with the broader conservative base, that is his prerogative. That is not however, what Obama or the DHS did.
The press plays a critical role in preserving the integrity of the government by reporting on (and evaluating) the actions of our government. Critiques that are factually inaccurate for the purpose of benefiting one political party do a grave disservice to the notion of the press as watchdog of the powerful and elite.

(Report Comment)
D.G. Cayse September 30, 2009 | 9:33 p.m.

What Mr. Foote neglects to observe and seeks to deny is that this determination, one done solely for in-house use and for the formulation of a comparison data-base on domestic terrorist type activities, was distributed by one DHS head Janet Napolitano. A familiar name?
Coming from one in such a position it is foolish to think that as it trickled down it would be dismissed as un-important. The hype it has received is based on its veracity, more appropriately its lack of veracity, and the fact of who and where it came from makes it even more disturbing.
The "Blame Bush" mantra is tiresome. But if that all one has...beat keep beating that'll find other lost souls in the 'progressive' forest to chant along with you.

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