Obama and Empathy, Part I
The President’s unique ability to consider both sides.
As you are probably aware, President Obama hates the rich, which is why the rich are struggling in America today.
Neither of these is true, of course, though you might be confused from the way Republicans howl to the heavens that Obama denigrates and demonizes the poor rich. These accusations seem to stand on three major planks, all of which have more to do with rhetoric than policy: in December of 2011, Obama delivered a speech in Kansas criticizing America’s growing inequality. Recently, his campaign has attacked Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital. And once upon a time—in December of 2009—he referred to “fat cat bankers on Wall Street.” Republicans will weave in policy complaints—Obama’s desire to raise taxes on the rich, or the increase in regulation—but it is his rhetoric and tone toward the rich, toward business, that they most often complain about.
This is ludicrous. Obama has said, about a million times, that he loves the rich. He has said that “the success of the American economy depends not on the efforts of government, but on the innovation and enterprise of America’s businesses.” He has said that “the free market is the greatest force for economic prosperity on earth.”
You might say that Obama says these things because he has to, because the financial industry is mightier than God, and because he relies on these people for campaign donations, and there is surely some truth to this.
Regardless, let’s not spend too much time on the “Republicans say Obama hates the rich, but actually he doesn’t hate them; in fact, they’re doing quite well under his administration” angle, because you can read about that in a thousand other places on the internet. That Obama hates the rich is one of those claims, along with “Obama doesn’t believe in American exceptionalism,” that has embedded itself in the conservative construction of our President, and it will require something much stronger than fact to remove. (This second claim, about exceptionalism, requires its own column. Fortunately, Romney will surely level this charge yet again some time this summer or fall, giving us opportunity to discuss it whenever it occurs.)
But in investigating this claim, and looking at the mountain of evidence that rebuts it, I was reminded anew of one of Obama’s most consistent traits: his efforts, almost to the point of parody, to consider both sides, to move to the middle, to reach out to opponents. Again, I am not speaking here of policy, but of tone and consideration; put aside, for the moment, Obama’s repeated efforts to broker a deal with John Boehner in advance of last fall’s debt ceiling.
For more of Ben Hoffman’s examination of Obama’s character, click here.