Sunday, March 15, 2009

How about ‘hoping’ for greater good to prevail?

previously published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, 3/15/09

“I hope he fails.” These four words, uttered by conservative political entertainer Rush Limbaugh during his radio broadcast on Jan. 16, 2009, referring to the imminent Obama presidency, and later reiterated at the Feb. 28, 2009, CPAC meetings aimed specifically at the stimulus package, has set off something of a firestorm.

I think it is also important to include this from Mr. Limbaugh’s January broadcast, after linking liberalism and socialism and implying that President-elect Obama is a socialist, he said: “So I can answer it, I hope he fails. And that would be the most outrageous (italics added) thing anybody in this climate could say. Shows you just how far gone we are. Well, I know, I know. I am the last man standing.”

“Most outrageous” has more to do with Mr. Limbaugh’s statement than his likely views on Mr. Obama or politics in general. I sometimes wonder why no one has ever thought Mr. Limbaugh is just the Elmer Gantry of conservative politics.

There is no doubt that Mr. Limbaugh’s “most outrageous” remarks have stirred the pot. Democrats and liberals are reaping some benefit from the controversy, but the real food fight is among Republicans and conservatives. As I write this, Newt Gingrich is squaring off against Mr. Limbaugh while Michael Steele, Chairperson of the RNC, continues his fence straddling (he seems not good at it and has fallen onto the fence several times likely damaging sensitive aspects of his standing among Republicans and conservatives).

What prompted me to write this essay are Web polls, similar to the one this paper began running, asking if it was unpatriotic to hope President Obama fails. I think polls like this are meaningless, usually leading to wasted energy that could be focused on dealing with the problems at hand. Just as supporters of President Bush’s controversial invasion of Iraq silenced (patriotic) criticism of that decision with attacks on critics’ patriotism, some Democrats, including those in President Obama’s administration are doing the same. Partisans point fingers and justify their actions with, “well, you did it when you were in power.” These exchanges are reminiscent of a schoolyard except no teacher steps in to remind the children that “two wrongs don’t make a right.”

I do think, with no evidence that I can marshal here, that there is a sector of Americans who believe to criticize the president, regardless of party, is unpatriotic. I think they are wrong, for what that is worth, but it would be an interesting poll that some news organization should conduct.

Fox News sponsored a poll of 900 registered voters in August of 2006 and found that 7 percent of Republicans, 34 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Democrats did not want President Bush to succeed. Overall, 63 percent wanted him to succeed despite President Bush’s approval ratings in the 30s at the time. This suggests a more sophisticated understanding of issues than we are seeing now, or at least at how they are being framed.

A person “hoping” that President Obama fails is different than someone believing the president is wrong. I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny. I don’t hope it doesn’t make a delivery at my house on Easter. To “hope” that something doesn’t happen (or to hope it does) suggests some level of belief in the possibility. Hence, Rush Limbaugh hopes President Obama fails because he recognizes the possibility that he could succeed. It is not that Mr. Limbaugh believes Mr. Obama will fail, it is that he recognizes that he could be successful, thus he “hopes” he fails.

Among President Obama’s goals is to stabilize and unfreeze the credit markets. I cannot imagine that many would disagree with that goal. Since no one really knows how to solve the problem, how we get there is going to cause disagreement. To “hope” that the plan fails, seems to me, to put partisan differences above the greater good. To believe the plan will fail or have deleterious side effects is, for some, intellectual honesty, as would be to also admit, “I hope I am wrong.”

Hoping that any president fails isn’t unpatriotic; however, it is intellectually dishonest.

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