I want you to use your imagination for a moment. Close your eyes and try to guess what the worst thing that could possibly happen to the American public be.
Another would-be terrorist slipping through aviation security? A massive hurricane advancing on Florida? Fox announcing it was canceling “Glee”?
Wrong. The gravest threat to Americans today is…a Supreme Court ruling on campaign advertising.
Last week, the court ruled that federal laws prohibiting corporations from airing spots for or against political candidates are unconstitutional. It’s a thorny issue, hinging on whether corporations, which in many ways are treated by the law as individuals with rights and responsibilities, are protected by the First Amendment.
It’s an important question with far-reaching consequences. Corporations, which already wield tremendous political power, just got a whole lot more. On the one hand, I think most of us can agree that that’s not in our best interests. On the other, there’s that pesky issue of the Bill of Rights.
I’m not a legal scholar, so the subtler constitutional points of the decision are lost on me. I won’t presume to wade into the argument over whether the court made the right call.
Barack Obama, though, has no such conniptions. And he’s hopping mad. “I can’t think of anything more devastating to the public interest,” he said. He must not have seen the most recent episode of “The Bachelor.”
In his defense, Obama is a legal scholar, so he’s a lot more credible than most of the other people who’ve thrown in their two-cents. But even if this was the stupidest, most irresponsible Supreme Court decision ever (and there have been some stupid, irresponsible ones over the years), does Obama really think this is the most devastating thing that could happen?
Obama was elected because he gives great speeches. It’s what made him a star at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. It’s what got him past the Jeremiah Wright scandal. It’s what the cult of hope and change was built around.
But back then, Obama’s rhetoric was about the way things could someday be. It was about looking forward to a better future. Sometimes it was a little overdramatic (some said naïve) but it inspired people nonetheless.
These days, Obama still has his penchant for hyperbole. Only now it’s all about anger. The Supreme Court made a ruling he disagreed with and bam: It’s the worst thing that could possibly happen in the history of terrible things. Democrats lost Massachusetts and bam: It’s all because people hate Bush. Obama has thrown his lofty rhetoric in the gutter.
America’s great orator of hope has become a demagogue of fear.
The skill that once made Obama the country’s knight in shining armor, his sweeping moral vision, has turned against him. On the campaign trail, it works to talk in absolutes. But the reality of governing is full of shades of gray. It’s about accepting setbacks, making compromises, and taking measured action.
Obama would do well to rethink the way he sees the world. Then, when he suffers defeats, he can see them in their proper scale and address them appropriately. If he did that, he’d have a lot less to complain about.
Nathaniel French is a junior theater major. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org