- If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.
President Barack Obama, Speech in Northern Ireland, June 2013
Another speech, another slur from the world’s greatest orator. We are now in Anno V of the reign of The One. Three and half years remain for him to flit about the world and, with his teleprompter, his instrument of admonition and edification, continue to do what he likes to do most – assert his moral and intellectual superiority and scold his inferiors.
This particular remark of the President (above) caused a bit more than the usual stir. Many Catholics in Northern Ireland understandably heard the speech as a gratuitous insult from, no less, a prestigious guest who took his visit as an opportunity to flaunt in still a very Catholic country his anti-Catholic bigotry, and, to signal how Christians under his watch might fare if he had even more power than he already does. The President’s minders, as they always do when his inner-Karl Marx suddenly protrudes (“religion is the opiate of the masses”) reacted by simply denying that he said what he said.
In light of the controversy thus sparked and the condescending dismal by Obama’s minions of the Catholic reaction this extract is worthy of dissection.
This jumbled up smear is a signature piece of Obama oratory, the most conspicuous element being that it is a jaw dropping non-sequitur. No logic, no facts, no history underlie this crude and stupid calumny – it is no more than a candid extrusion of a usually sublimated, virulent anti-clericalism. From separate schools and buildings for Catholics and Protestants there follows from the President’s logic moral blindness, the hardening of fear and resentment, etc. "Obama was not condemning Catholic schools – he was condemning segregation," wrote one of Obama’s defenders. Well, yes, Obama was condemning segregation. However, parochial education by its very nature is a kind of segregation -- voluntary segregation. That is the whole point. People segregate for all sorts of reasons, most of them benign. The Polish-American Veterans Club is a segregated association. Does it augment fear and resentment? Obama clearly views parochial education as morally equivalent to Jim Crow and Apartheid. So before the shock of the slip could fully register, once again as with his 2012 “You didn’t build that” quip, his propaganda mill churned out the dense smog of denial.
For all of his supposed intellectual sophistication and moral sensitivity, Obama rarely seems able to rise above his ideologically rigid, viscerally-based antagonisms and attempt to consider that those who do not share his views might not be stupid or depraved. In any case Obama’s admonition in Northern Ireland was explicit and unequivocal. The four invidious “ifs” in this extract are tightly, if clumsily linked – separate Protestant and Catholic schools are a major piece of social-religious conflict. That he meant what he said here is also entirely consistent with his personal history and political career.
While many of Obama’s speeches are poll-tested, focus-group vetted, campaign schlock, on occasion the President actually goes off script and says what he really thinks. And when he does, somebody somewhere gets smeared or threatened. In 2008 the white voters in Pennsylvania who preferred Ms. Clinton over him in the primary were people who “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." Here is Obama in yet another self-assumed authoritative posture, as rural sociologist “explaining” to his audience of fawning sophisticates in San Francisco why those dumb white folks in the sticks of PA didn’t vote for him. For someone who agonizes about not being able to “see ourselves in one another” the President cannot seem to see anything but chauvinism and ignorance in people whose views are not like his, or people who aren’t like him. The “other” for him is always a knuckle-dragging, bible-thumping bigot or a rich, selfish exploiter of the disadvantaged.
Condescension and contempt are deep in Obama’s reflexes and make their way often into his oratory as we see above. In the 2012 election he successfully reduced his opponent to a vicious caricature, a vulture capitalist who enjoyed throwing people out of work and letting them die for lack of health insurance. He could never even slightly dissimulate his contempt and loathing for Mr. Romney and his demeanor during the debates was a study of arrogant disdain and condescension.
While Obama routinely smears his critics – “Dirtier air, dirtier water, less people with health insurance” is what Republicans want, he said in a 2011 speech – he also is given to threats. “Were gonna punish our enemies and reward our friends…” he said in a 2010 Univision address. At that time even his critics did not likely take him literally. It is now clear that the IRS and his Attorney General were busy doing just that. In a short four and a half years the “Hope and Change” Obama of transparency, bi-partisanship and post-racial America, now seems rather to have dropped out of the mold that formed the likes of Juan Peron, Hugo Chavez and Robert Mugabe.
Recently in Germany for the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s historic speech there the Germans, somewhat less enthralled with him than when he descended in 2008, were recipients of the another side of Obama’s oratory, the fluffy, anodyne version. “[W]e believe that real prosperity comes from our most precious resource -- our people. And that’s why we choose to invest in education, and science and research.” Yes, of course. Who other than those troglodyte Republicans doesn’t believe that? This is the Miss America-oratory that so impressed the Norwegian Nobel Prize award committee a few years and a few wars ago. When Obama is not smearing or defaming his opposition, he wallows in banalities and platitudes. And so his oratory moves from the Ying of “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America” (2004) to the Yang of “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun” (June 2008, Philadelphia). It is all of a piece, but he is most believable when he is making his insults and threats.
When we are finally done with him in 2017 there will be some very angry and bitter discussion about all that he has done to us. But even now no one, anyone, can say that he turned out to be what he said he was.