President Obama accused Republicans on Tuesday of launching an "ideological crusade" to hold the "economy hostage" over "ideological" and "reckless" demands to dismantle his health care law. "In other words," he said, "they demanded ransom just for doing their jobs."
Several readers who support Obama said they were disappointed by the tone of his remarks. One from Ohio wrote, "He needs to chill. He looks defensive and has no reason to be." An independent voter in Michigan wrote, "He seems like an angry kid." A Maryland Democrat complained, "I love the man, but why is he yelling at me?"
I had a similar reaction listening to the remarks shortly after writing a column in defense of Obama's position.
Is the president lecturing, belittling Americans right now? Or the GOP House? Comms issue: Voters watching might not know difference— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) October 1, 2013
An otherwise solid argument can be undercut by the words a president chooses and the tone that greases them. It's not enough to be right as a leader if you insult voters with your righteousness. It's not just Obama. Senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer recently said the White House is opposed to "negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chests," an irresponsible and overheated image.
The Republican Party engineered this stalemate and is likely to shoulder most of the blame. That is, unless the Democratic Party matches the GOP on pettiness, stubbornness, and demagoguery. Presidents Reagan and Clinton had a way of attacking their rivals with a smile, making their point without making themselves look smaller. Can Obama?
Twenty-six hundred words into a long-winded address, Obama took a breath and said, "Let me repeat, I will not negotiate over Congress' responsibility to pay bills it's already racked up. I'm not going to allow anybody to drag the good name of the United States of America through the mud just to refight a settled election or extract ideological demands." Ten sentences later, he added, "We're better than this. Certainly, the American people are a lot better than this."
Yes, they are. And they might expect a better tone from their president.