You can add Thomas Friedman to the long list of pundits who are now quite concerned about the state of political discourse in America and of critics of the president who question his legitimacy. Friedman worries:
I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination. . . . [We face] a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest. We can’t change this overnight, but what we can change, and must change, is people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable.
I’ve written before about the importance of civility in public discourse and the need for what has been called the “etiquette of democracy.” One question, though: When George W. Bush was being routinely savaged by those on the Left—including prominent Democrats like Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Harry Reid—where were those Friedman columns of ringing condemnation? I don’t recall them; perhaps you do.
When there was actually a movie made about the assassination of President Bush (Death of a President), I don’t recall Friedman writing about “creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.”
When Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker declared that Bush’s “legitimacy is hard to accept,” I don’t recall Mr. Friedman worrying that Bush was having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the Left (adding a mild line of criticism against liberals now, in order to gain the patina of fair-mindedness, simply underscores that Friedman was AWOL when it counted).
I should add that when Jonathan Chait of the New Republic published a piece in 2003 that began, “I hate President George W. Bush. There, I said it,” one admirable New York Times columnist did speak out. His name is David Brooks. (“The quintessential new warrior scans the Web for confirmation of the president’s villainy,” Brooks wrote. “The core threat to democracy is not in the White House, it’s the haters themselves.”)
Most of us struggle with the temptation to employ double standards, to cloak political agendas in the language of moral concern and outrage. Some individuals do an admirable job resisting that temptation. Others, like Tom Friedman, do not. He would have a lot more credibility now if he had actually spoken out before.