Obama’s remarks showed partisanship, not inspiration
This article first appeared on The Tartan Online on Monday, June 7.
A relatively small group of Carnegie Mellon and Pittsburgh leaders watched as President Barack Obama delivered an address in Wiegand Gym on Wednesday, June 2. Though I, like most students, was not in Pittsburgh for the event (and would not have received an invitation anyway), reading the transcript of the president’s remarks impressed upon me a disappointing fact: The candidate who spoke of the audacity of hope has, as president, adopted too many of the worst aspects of Washington politics.
As I read Obama’s address, I was dismayed by the overwhelmingly partisan rhetoric he used, particularly in the first half. While a post-partisan society is likely impossible and at the very least many years away, candidate Obama seemed able to focus more on a hopeful future than a disappointing present. Despite the ostensible theme of Wednesday’s speech being on building a foundation for the future, I saw mostly a series of attacks on the Republican Party.
Of course, it might have been hard to tell that Obama was criticizing the Republicans, since he refused to utter their name for almost the entirety of his 40-minute address. While there are over 20 references to “the other party” or “they” (pointedly referring to said other party), there are a grand total of two times that the word “Republican” was said. Mr. President, I know who the other party is, and I know you do, too. Not saying their name won’t make them go away. I’m sorry. The same holds true for “the previous administration.” This may be a common trick used by speechwriters, but Obama should set a higher standard.
The president’s hide-and-seek game with the word “Republican” unfortunately was not the only embarrassingly partisan occasion in his speech. Toward the middle of the address, Obama said, “But to be fair, a good deal of the other party’s opposition to our agenda has also been rooted in their sincere and fundamental belief about the role of government.... It’s [a belief] that basically offers two answers to every problem we face: more tax breaks for the wealthy and fewer rules for corporations.” I think the White House speechwriters have a different dictionary than I. Last time I checked, none of the definitions of “fair” is equivalent to oversimplifying one’s opponents’ position to absurdity.
Partisan rhetoric did not comprise all of Wednesday’s address. Yet even when Obama discussed his accomplishments and plans for the future, the ideas seemed stale and weak. This was a defensive speech couched as forward-looking. At this stage, almost nobody believes that fossil fuels are a long-term energy solution. Cap-and-trade legislation — one way of taxing carbon emissions — has been part of the president’s platform for years. After torturous debate, health care reform has been passed, yet it formed a significant section of Obama’s address. Perhaps he was playing to the UPMC representatives in the audience, or maybe he became so used to talking about it that he doesn’t remember how to stop.
At Carnegie Mellon, a center of innovation and research, the president should have renewed his vision and inspiration for the future instead of giving what was ultimately a cliched and political speech. Obama has faced political setbacks and a series of crises since he took office, but he should continue to look forward.