This month I am guesting at Prawfsblawg, a national lawprof blog. I posted yesterday on President Obama's speech to schoolchildren. I don't have a problem with a speech, but there is an etiquette that should be followed when a President presumes to speak apolitically in his capacity as head of state. The speech should not be about his agenda, disputed matters of policy or him. That his political opponents are suspect that this etiquette will not be followed and that the speech will be used to gain political advantage is not unprecedented (Democrats objected to a similar speech by Bush 41) and not surprising.
Perhaps the reaction is more vociferous today than it was then. I don't know, although it seems to me that we are increasingly less cordial and willing to engage what our opponents say. Mostly I think this is a function of the ability of people to live, if they choose, in an echo chamber. If Keith Olberman and Glen Beck repeatedly tell you that "we" are morally and intellectually superior, you might come to believe it.
But maybe there's more to it than that. It is absolutely incorrect to say that George W. Bush represented some sort of apogee of conservatism. On economic issues, in particular, he routinely betrayed conservative principles.
But he did outrage liberals with what they saw as an extreme reaction to the 9-ll attacks. They were concerned - with some justification - about the implications of preemptive war and what they saw as suspension of essential civil liberties. Even I, who believe that much of what the administration did was justified, recognized that the war on terror raised some very difficult questions and potentially dangerous precedents. Many on the left became overwrought in their concern and took leave of their senses (Bush was not a theocrat, fascist or war criminal)and this sullied our public discourse.
So it is with Obama. He has stunned conservatives with his commitment to statism and proposed expansion of the federal government. The type of centralized corporatism that he seems to favor is potentially a radical change in our society. Many on the right have become overwrought (he is not a communist or a nazi) and this has sullied our public discourse. Some liberals have, in my view, been complicit in this further degradation of debate by attempting to paint conservatives as the sum of their most objectionable elements. (Yes, some conservatives did that to liberals as well.)
I don't expect this to change. But I would suggest to my friends on the left and the right that if you have shown that the latest from Michael Savage or Markos Moulitas is intemperate and foolish (a worthwhile service), you've still got work to do.