In the days before the re-inauguration of President Obama, there have been the usual curtain raisers, with the usual suspects screaming from their respective corners about the usual stuff.
And then there have been interviews with “real” people.
I was listening to NPR on Wednesday night; they stationed a reporter outside the White House to ask tourists what they would tell the president. Some of them had voted for him; many of them had not.
Not one of them screamed.
Not one of them insulted him, threatened to impeach him or accused him of anything approaching a high crime or misdemeanor.
To a person, they were gracious. They congratulated him on his re-election, even if they voted for his opponent. They complimented him on his beautiful family and wished them well.
And they expressed their hopes — imagine that, hopes — for the future.
The hopes ran the gamut: for jobs, for equality, for lower taxes, for fiscal responsibility, for education for their kids.
What they understood, and what the people who have been given loudspeakers seem to forget, is that Barack Obama is the president of the United States, not just the blue ones, and that once the contest is over, whether it’s an intramural ball game or an intramural presidential election, we shake hands and go forward together.
Why is that so hard to understand? How is it that an entire professional (or maybe not so professional) class has emerged that makes its living pretending it isn’t so, that our divisions are hopeless, that the other side is not just wrong but disloyal, and that the pot of gold awaits the one who makes the most noise and the ugliest claims.
When Hillary Clinton was ill, most Americans wished her well — whether they voted for her or not, whether they supported her work as secretary of state or not. But the ones who got the most attention were those who literally accused her of faking her illness — of faking a concussion and a blood clot, days in the hospital and months of monitoring — to escape congressional hearings that she has vowed to attend before she leaves office. Did they really think she was faking? Did they really think the pictures of a clearly shaken Chelsea Clinton were staged for photographers? Of course not. It was just a game to get attention. And it worked — which is why you see so much of it.
I assume that within seconds of the president’s taking the oath (OK, within seconds of the lead-up specials), the attacks will begin on everything from what he said to what his children were wearing. Many of them will make no pretense of being constructive. They will be loud, noisy and mean-spirited, and they will get plenty of attention.
You can blame the media for that. You can blame the cable network you don’t like or the radio host you can’t stand, as opposed to the equally loud-mouthed one you listen to.
Or you can look to the left, look to the right and look in the mirror to see the real culprit.
Why so many negative ads, people used to ask me when I did campaigns. I laughed. Simple. They work. Why so much screaming on television and on the radio? Personally, I hate it when a screamer comes into my house, in person or electronically. I vowed years ago that when people start yelling at me on television, I just stop. Let them yell. That is not, sadly for me anyway, the way to win fame and fortune in the media.
If civil discourse got good ratings, we’d have more civil discourse. If people demanded talking heads who knew what they were talking about — as opposed to those who look good doing it and scream loudest — we’d have more informed debate. If people actually voted with their remote controls for the values we teach our children — mutual respect, decency, honesty — that’s what we’d see and hear.
From the interviews I listened to, regular people are still hoping for the best from a new Obama term. If that includes how we treat one another, whether we listen or scream, whether we reward good or bad behavior, this really could be a new beginning. Here’s hoping.