Entry from May 31, 2014

Although I’m on my feet at six o’clock of a week-day morning, I usually allow myself a bit of a lie-in on the weekend, and so, as an added benefit, I normally miss the President’s weekly radio address, which comes on at 6:35. I often hear the Republican "reply" at 7:35, but do not much miss it when I don’t. There must be something catching about the blandness and emptiness that most politicians of both parties indulge themselves in on these occasions. Today, however, I was up in time to hear Mr Obama tell those who, unlike him, are early risers that, "in America, we don’t have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children. The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technology to break the old rules." And, just in case we didn’t get the message, he then added that, "as President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing."

Here he combines two of his favorite rhetorical devices: first, the identification of a supposed false choice being offered by unidentified political opponents — as when, in his first inaugural address he said, "we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals" — and then, immediately following, he produces a straw man who, not content with offering us a false choice, wants "to condemn our children to a planet that’s beyond fixing." In other words, he counters the alleged false choice of the unnamed opponents with a genuinely false choice of his own. We know it’s false because it’s so easy, unlike the "Hard Choices" his former Secretary of State has named her new memoir after. Hasn’t she heard? There are no hard choices in the Obama rhetorical world.

The hard choices, that is, like that between growth and the environment or ideals and security — or, more recently, between jobs for the unskilled and raising the minimum wage — are in Mr Obama’s rhetorical world all false ones. Certainly, Mrs Clinton’s successor has caught on and joined his chief in fantasy-land, telling Boston College graduates last week that there is no economic downside to the administration’s transformation of national energy policy. "We put millions of people to work transitioning our energy, creating new and renewable and alternative; we make life healthier because we have less particulates in the air and cleaner air and more health; we give ourselves greater security through greater energy independence—that's the downside." Gosh! The choices don’t come any easier than that.

I wonder if either man has ever reflected on the corollary of this view of the world, which is that anyone who disagrees with them must be incredibly stupid or else must have some ulterior motive for doing so, such as racism. The preposterousness of the notion suggests a certain thoughtlessness on their part, but the fact that they are so rarely called on it by their friends in the media shows that they hardly need to give it any thought. The really scary proposition is that they actually believe their opposition to be either stupid or racist. As someone who consumes way more of the media product than can possibly be good for him, I would say there is very likely a plurality of political journalists who do believe this. It’s hard to imagine they can’t see, any more than the administration can, what an unlovely quality this is in a president, or any leader, and yet it seems to be increasingly what the Democrats not only want but demand of theirs.

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