Michael Gerson, George W. Bush's former speechwriter, reflects on the meaning of the inauguration. First, he sees a double standard in comparing the hypothetical (liberal!!) media coverage of John McCain and George W.Bush versus the actual media coverage of Barack Obama.
This inaugural week included a massive achievement in American racial history, an outpouring of civic participation and a gracious executive transition on both sides. But amid the celebration one could detect double standards all around.
If the outcome had been different in November, would John McCain's inaugural coverage have been quite as worshipful as President Obama's — during which the "shiver" up the leg of journalists finally became full-fledged convulsions? Why were the biblical references in Obama's inaugural speech not considered a coded assault on the Constitution, as George W. Bush's were sometimes viewed? And I can only imagine the cascades of hilarity and derision that would have come had Bush messed up the inaugural oath, no matter the cause.
But a sense of victimhood is not attractive from any political perspective. And so, in honor of the "era of responsibility," I put aside such childish things.
The comparison is absolute crap, to put it mildly. Gerson ought to go back to the coverage of most of Bush's tenure in office for a nauseatingly sycophantic and incurious media, eager to repeat the lamest of his lines, to faun over his heroic landing on an aircraft carrier, his plain-spoken, I-want-to-have-a-beer-with-him (but not that effete, fat, ambitious exaggerator Al Gore) qualities.
It would have been far less childish of Gerson had he simply not mentioned this things at all.
Now on to Gerson's other childishness.
Any American with a sense of history should feel that sense of awe. Minorities of every background must feel it most deeply. As the father of multiracial children, I feel it deeply enough.
But there was a second, less sympathetic, Obama enthusiasm at work. In a Newsweek essay, Michael Hirsh mentioned Obama's racial achievement. But he went on to say that "there's something else that I'm even happier about — positively giddy. . . . What Obama's election means, above all, is that brains are back." Hirsh declared that the Obama era means the defeat of "yahooism" and "jingoism" and "flag-pin shallowness" and "religious zealotry" and "anti-intellectualism." Obama is a "guy who keeps religion in its proper place — in the pew."
I only wish what Hirsch said were true! The "flag-pin shallowness" and the other things, however, are in part at least media-driven narratives that won't go away anytime soon. But aside from that Gerson cannot possibly be serious, the candidate for Vice President on the Republican side openly questioned whether Obama, with his effete university pedigree and tenuous association with a former domestic terrorist (and radical African American preacher), loved America, or was from "real America." Notice that this wasn't the fringe crazies on Fox News, or Rush Limbaugh, it was the candidate whom Obama defeated in the Presidential election.
Anyway, Gerson will have forgotten this, because he'll seize upon the remark about religion and accuse Hirsch of arrogance.
There is much to unpack here. Can it be that Hirsh is "even happier" about the advance of liberal arrogance than he is about the advance of racial justice? And would the civil rights movement have come at all if African American religion had stayed "in the pew"? But suffice it to say that some wish to interpret the Obama victory as a big push in the culture war — as an opportunity to attack their intellectual and cultural "inferiors."
Cheering that the era of Joe the Plumber, John McCain's ignorant and confused campaign prop does not make one guilty of "liberal arrogance." Nor does cheering the arrival of a President with the pedigree of an intellectual. Most of all, however, rejoicing at the political marginalization of the narrow-minded Christian zealots does not have anything to do with the civil rights movement. To be against, in other words, one particularly virulent and ignorant brand of Christian fundamentalism having a role in shaping government policy does not mean one is against religion having any role at all in the private and public lives of citizens. Those are really different claims–and "in the pew" is obviously a metaphor only the lack of charity or ignorant yahooism would interpret literally (and then radically misapply).
This line, given the either-orness of the last administration is the kicker:
Most of us have witnessed this attitude, usually in college. The kids who employed contempt instead of argument, who shouted down speakers they didn't agree with, who thought anyone who contradicted them had a lower IQ, who talked of "reason" while exhibiting little of it. They were often not the brightest of bulbs. Most people recover from this childish affliction. Some do not.
You have got to be kidding me. The People who employ contempt instead of argument and shout down people they don't agree with–or openly question their sanity, patriotism, honesty, sexuality, faith, and so forth–are not obviously the same people who praise the arrival of an intellectual President, who only nights before his inauguration sits down for a discussion with the opposition's leading "intellectuals."