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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/2/10

Does Obama Know the War He's In?

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Pleading for civility won't get Limbaugh and Beck to tamp down their rhetoric, nor will it cause Republican leaders to abandon their congressional obstructionism. After all, their strongest argument for a Republican Congress in November will be that Obama and the Democrats haven't delivered.

Perhaps Obama does understand this political dynamic and his commencement address was only an attempt to position himself with independents who say they despise partisanship.

But there is a price to be paid for chastising your own Democratic "base" for its supposed intolerance calling on them to read editorials in the Wall Street Journal and to "learn what it's like to walk in somebody else's shoes."

For sure, the Tea Party crowd isn't going to take advice from Obama to absorb a liberal perspective. Judson Phillips of Tea Party Nation immediately accused Obama of hypocrisy and called the Tea Partiers the real victims.

"We're seeing a lot of incivility from the other side, people referring to us as tea-baggers and racists, people who lie about us," Phillips said.

The only ones likely to heed what Obama says are his own supporters. Thus, they might be inclined to retreat into greater passivity.

So, instead of girding for the political conflict that is ahead and recognizing that he is facing an implacable enemy Obama is talking like Neville Chamberlain at Munich, hoping against hope that peace might be at hand.

Wishful Thinking

This wishful thinking puts Obama in the ranks of most Democrats from the past four decades during which they more often than not shied away from confronting Republican wrongdoing, even to the point of helping Republicans miswrite recent history.

My book, Secrecy & Privilege, opens with a scene in spring 1994 when a guest at a White House social event asks President Clinton why his administration didn't pursue unresolved scandals of the Reagan-Bush-41 era, such as the Iraqgate secret support for Saddam Hussein's regime and clandestine arms shipments to the Islamic government of Iran.

Clinton responded to the question from documentary filmmaker Stuart Sender by saying, in effect, that those historical questions had to take a back seat to Clinton's domestic agenda and his desire for greater bipartisanship.

Clinton "didn't feel that it was a good idea to pursue these investigations because he was going to have to work with these people," Sender told me in an interview. "He was going to try to work with these guys, compromise, build working relationships."

Clinton's relatively low regard for the value of truth and accountability was echoed by other centrist Democrats in 2006, in anticipation of the party's congressional victory. The Progressive Policy Institute, a think tank of the Democratic Leadership Council, published a pamphlet that "warned against calls to launch investigations into past [Bush-43] administration decisions," the Washington Post reported.

Essentially, the victorious Democrats followed that advice for the final two years of George W. Bush's presidency and Obama then embraced the don't-look-back approach when he took office in 2009. However, beyond the dangers of tolerating a false or incomplete history of these times, the Democrats haven't even gotten the hoped-for bipartisanship.

The Republicans and their right-wing allies simply pocketed the concessions and pressed ahead with their aggressive strategies: they rally their base with extreme rhetoric and they create as much disruption as possible. After all, they have no reason to fear that the Democrats will ever demand accountability.

Ironically, the only real hope for political civility, at least eventually, may be for Obama and the Democrats to first give up their obsession with bipartisanship and take up the challenge of fighting for truth and the public's interest.

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Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at
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