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Obama, Civility, and Wanda Sykes

Toby Harnden of the London Telegraph has quite a good column in which he takes to task Wanda Sykes, the comedienne who went after Rush Limbaugh in a pretty vicious manner at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

According to Ms. Sykes,

Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails, so you’re saying, ‘I hope America fails ‘, you’re, like, ‘I don’t care about people losing their homes, their jobs, our soldiers in Iraq’. He just wants the country to fail. To me, that’s treason. He’s not saying anything differently than what Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker. But he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight… Rush Limbaugh, I hope the country fails, I hope his kidneys fail, how about that? He needs a good waterboarding, that’s what he needs.”

All of this was said in the presence of, and apparently to the approval of, President Obama, who managed to chuckle his way through Sykes’s remarks.

There are, I think, several things to make of this incident. The first is that for some of those with a liberal cast of mind, to oppose the policies of President Obama is treasonous and akin to bin Ladenism. This is stupidity on stilts. Rush Limbaugh hopes Obama will fail because he wants America to succeed; by his lights, Obama’s policies will hurt America. Even if you disagree with that view, it is beyond absurd to claim it is treason and bin Laden-like.

Second, one cannot help but note the extraordinary double standard when it comes to the rhetoric of conservatives and liberals. If a conservative had said something similar about a liberal at the Correspondents’ Dinner, the press would be outraged and in high dudgeon. But because the target was Rush Limbaugh, most in the media appear quietly, or less-than-quietly, satisfied. As Harnden puts well:

Imagine if a comedian “joked” that Obama was a terrorist who was guilty of treason and should be tortured and allowed to die. There would justifiably be an outcry. But when the “joke” comes from a liberal, Obama-supporting comedienne and the target is a right-winger then the likes of Hilary Rosen and Donna Brazile are on CNN saying it ‘ s just comedy and Limbaugh is “fair game”.

We have seen this kind of thing happen over and over again. For example, leading Democrats routinely accused President Bush of deeply dishonoring America, of being a “moral coward,” of having built a “durable reputation as the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon,” and of “flat-out lying” in an effort to bring America to war — yet these slanders were largely ignored or passed over as routine political discourse. But when the tables are turned — indeed, when Republicans who most people have never heard of make incendiary comments about this liberal figure or that liberal cause — we hear howls of protest and moral outrage from the press.

The third thing to say is that Obama is the man who promised to cast aside what he has called the “partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.” He was going to be the voice of civility and for high-minded public discourse. Is this what Obama had in mind? Granted, Sykes’s words were not Obama’s. Still, his reaction to the ugly things said about Limbaugh tells us something about him. It may also help explain why Obama was so comfortable in the pew of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church for almost 20 years. Perhaps Obama, upon reflection, is willing to condemn the Sykes’s remarks. It would be the appropriate thing to do, especially for a man who wants to usher in a new age of civility.

Sykes’s comments were ugly and unnecessary. And while they revealed things that are not terribly surprising, they was still discouraging. And they deserve repudiation by the President.


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