President Obama's claim to have disapproved of gay marriage until he changed his mind in 2012 has been exposed as a lie. It was a small, politically expedient lie, but it got a lot of attention last week. Meanwhile a bigger lie hovers over the Obama presidency like an avenging angel, unseen and unheard.
The bigger lie wasn't a fleeting comment. It was the crux of Obama's presidential campaign. He didn't say he was more liberal and more experienced than his opponents. But he did say he knew how to cleanse Washington of political and ideological polarization, raging partisanship, the frequency of personal attacks, and general dysfunction. This made him uniqueand very, very appealing.
He repeated the theme in campaign speeches. And in his Inaugural Address in January 2009, he said: "We have come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the petty recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics .??.??. the time has come to set aside childish things."
As he left the inaugural ceremony, former House speaker Newt Gingrich told his wife, Calista, "If he'll govern the way he just spoke, he'll be Eisenhower. .??.??. He'll split the Republican party. He'll dominate the country."
But Obama hasn't governed like Ike, a unifying national leader. Almost instantly, he became a highly partisan president. He had promised to consult Republicans in Congress and listen to their ideas. Yet he's done that rarely and then usually in a false show of bipartisanship. He insinuates Republicans have nothing worthwhile to tell him.
He has passed up two opportunities to join the country in moving to the political center, the first after the Republican landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, the second after the GOP captured both houses of Congress in November's midterm vote.
Instead, he has challenged the legitimacy of the 2014 midterms, noting that only one-third of those registered actually voted. He pressed the point as recently as last week in a speech in Indianapolis. Here's what he said:
When people are involved and informed and taking the time to ask questions and let their opinions be known, then ultimately the government will respond. But if only a third of the people are saying anything, the government doesn't respond, and you get the government that we've seen in Washington latelywhich is unresponsive and is not doing enough.
In fairness, Obama was referring not to his administration specifically but to our system of government. But the pointthat the results of the 2014 elections were less than fully legitimateis the same. And rather than accommodating the outcome, he's fighting it. In January, he set a record for veto threats by a president in the first month of a new Congresseight.
With his professed distaste for personal attacks, one might suspect Obama would have magnanimously refrained from indulging in such attacks himself, or at least softened any of his own. But his reelection campaign unleashed brutal attacks on Republican Mitt Romney amounting to character assassination.
And though he had positioned himself as a champion of national unity, Obama has been a divisive force on racial, economic, and political concerns. He spoke out in racially loaded controversies involving the brief arrest in Cambridge, Massachusetts, of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and later the killing of Trayvon Martin, saying he saw the Florida teenager as the son he didn't have.
On the economy, the president continues to go after American companies for not paying U.S. taxes on their overseas profits without mentioning that they pay taxes to foreign governments. If they did pay U.S. taxes as well, foreign competitors would have the advantage since they don't pay taxes on foreign earnings to their home governments. In politics, Obama often characterizes Republicans as proponents of no government at all or says they have no proposals or ideas to deal with national problems. None of this is true. When he unveiled a plan for free community colleges, he didn't seek advice from Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), who had run his state's community college system.
As a candidate in 2008, Obama said questioning "who isor is nota patriot all too often poisons our political debates in ways that divide us rather than bring us together." Last year, however, he said he prefers "a patriotic" Republican party to the one that opposes him. He also accused Republicans of favoring "party over country" and declared himself an advocate of "economic patriotism," implying that those who differ with him are unpatriotic.
Perhaps it's a mistake to expect Obama to live up to what he said in his campaign (and repeated later). He is a politician. And don't they all fall short of their campaign promises? Yes, they do.
But Obama has put himself in a higher class, morally speaking. He did this with his 2004 speech at the Democratic convention. "There is not a liberal America and a conservative Americathere is the United States of America," he said. "There is not a black America and a white America and Latino America and Asian Americathere's the United States of America."
Great speech. Too bad Obama acts as if he never spoke those inspiring words.