On “The Last Word,” MSNBC contributor Richard Wolffe, in the context of Speaker John Boehner asking President Obama to give his address to a Joint Session on a night other than the one during which a GOP presidential debate will be held, said this:
The interesting question is: What is it about this president that has stripped away the veneer of respect that normally accompanies the office of the president? Why do Republicans think this president is unpresidential and should dare to request this kind of thing? It strikes me that it could be the economic times, it could be that he won so big in 2008 or it could be, let’s face it, the color of his skin. This is an extraordinary reaction to a normal sequence of events.
Funny, but I don’t recall the “veneer of respect that normally accompanies the office of the president” when the chief executive was a man named George W. Bush. During the Bush presidency, for example, George W. Bush was referred to by leading members of the Democratic Party as a “moral coward” (Vice President Al Gore ), as a “loser” and a “liar” who had “betrayed his country” (Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid), and who “week after week after week after week … told lie after lie after lie after lie” (Senator Edward Kennedy). But in a remarkable feat of self-control, Wolffe was able to keep his moral outrage in check.
Beyond that, though, is something more pernicious: the suggestion, which we hear more and more of these days, that opposition to President Obama is based on racist views. At the outset of his administration, some of us predicted this would happen once Obama encountered rough political waters. Still, this needs to be said: to hurl the charge of racism without any evidence is slanderous. The GOP’s opposition to Obama is rooted in profound political and philosophical disagreements; Republicans believe he is championing policies injurious to our nation. They may be wrong, but that does not make them malevolent. And to accuse people of racism in such a casual, promiscuous and reckless manner ultimately has the effect of draining the charge of its potency. Genuine racism is a terrible thing, which is why it should be reserved for the real deal rather than used as a clumsy and transparently ideological club.
As for the controversy over the timing of the speech: even Democratic strategist James Carville said the White House was “out of bounds” in trying to schedule Obama’s speech on the night of the GOP debate. Perhaps Wolffe believes Carville’s statement is grounded in racism, but I doubt it.
There is something of an irony in all this. James Carville, a deeply committed Democrat and a paid political strategist, is able to show more intellectual independence and less reflexive partisanship than Richard Wolffe, who is a journalist. But perhaps that is because Wolffe is a particular kind of journalist, one who also happens to be an Obama courtier. And with every passing day, it appears as if he views his role less as a journalist and more as hagiographer for the president and an attack dog against the GOP. All of which means Wolffe is earning his pay from MSNBC.