Picking up sandwiches today for the trip up to Lake George, I scanned the front page of the Times. This interrupted my pleasant stay at the deli:
Europeans admire Mr. Obama’s political skills, and welcome his apparent readiness to respect opposing points of view. For many here, that raises the prospect of a sharp break with the policies of the Bush administration, especially in its first term when the United States chose to ignore the Geneva Conventions at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, rejected the Kyoto accord on global warming and invaded Iraq, starting a war that some of America’s European allies opposed.
Everything about this is wrong. “Apparent readiness to respect opposing points of view” is one of these nonsense phrases. We might as well say that Europeans appreciate his “apparent readiness to commit senseless acts of beauty.” It’s just bunk. What would constitute an unwillingness to respect opposing points of view? Don’t I demonstrate this everyday by speaking with other human beings without shouting all the time? Does this mean I could draw tens of thousands in Berlin?
And how is this related to the policies of the Bush administration? Wasn’t it Bush who got a bipartisan blank check to invade Iraq? Even going to Congress shows this “apparent readiness” no? Didn’t most of these European allies (or at least their governments) initially support Operation Iraqi Freedom? Also, what has Obama done in 2008 to demonstrate this “readiness to respect” that Bush didn’t do in 2000? I seem to remember Bush touting his experience as a “united not a divider” and explaining over and over again in his debates with Al Gore, “it’s just a difference of opinion.”
That whole paragraph was the journalistic equivalent of smooth jazz – a kind of familiar vamping that remains inoffensive until you actually pay attention to it.
The only tangible benefit an apparent willingness to “respect opposing viewpoints” offers is the possibility of caution. Perhaps it could signify a non-ideological approach to governing. But Obama hasn’t demonstrated this at all. He has only shown us his ability to articulate a viewpoint opposed to his own and then dismiss it. I don’t know what it says about Europeans or journalists that this is considered admirable.