Obama's George Bush Problem

Obama ran for president on a pledge to change the tone in Washington. The right's reaction to the Olympic setback proves he's failed—just like Bush before him.

AP Photos

Civility really may be dead.

I was not surprised that Chicago did not get the Olympics. I was critical of President Obama for going to Copenhagen because I thought it demonstrated a rare example poor political judgment and instincts. It was high risk and low reward. Not a good use of his time with all the other pressing priorities we face. The trip sent the wrong message.

But I also recognize it for what it probably was. I suspect that Mayor Daley and other good friends of Obama’s from Chicago leaned heavily on the president and convinced him they could cinch the deal if only Obama would show up.

After the Olympic setback, conservative radio talk-show host Mark Levin was spewing streams of hate-filled venom at Obama that were jaw-dropping. His favorite epithet for the president is “jerk.”

So, when I heard the news I was not surprised, but I was disappointed. I would have liked for the Olympics to come to the United States. But when I turned on my car radio and listened to conservative radio talk-show host Mark Levin, I was shocked by what I heard. He was spewing streams of hate-filled venom at Obama that were jaw-dropping. His favorite epithet for the president is ”jerk.” And he was reveling in Obama’s failure.

This is standard fare for Levin, who is truly a hate monger. Levin has proclaimed that “Obama is literally at war with the American people.” He calls the National Organization for Women “The National Organization of Women Who Look Like Men” and the “National Organization of Really Ugly Women.” He refers to Hilary Clinton as “Her Thighness.” He calls Sonia Sotomayor “Ruth Bader Ginsberg Plus 50 Pounds.”

Nice stuff. And for this, he is rewarded the No. 4 ranking among radio talk-show hosts.

And that’s the problem. There is no reward for decency. Just ask George W. Bush or Barack Obama. There are remarkable parallels between their campaigns for the presidency. Both spent a lot of time talking about changing the tone in Washington and creating an atmosphere of bipartisanship and civility.

Ana Marie Cox: Chicago Dodged a BulletThe 2000 recount poisoned the well for Bush from the beginning. Many Democrats refused to even acknowledge him as a legitimate president. And the hate began. Obama won by a comfortable margin, but not comfortable enough that opponents didn’t start immediately questioning his legitimacy, claiming he wasn't born in the United States and, therefore should be constitutionally barred from holding the office.

At least Bush and Obama campaigned on the idea of civility. I fear in the future candidates for president may not even try.

Tim Pawlenty last week announced hiring some seasoned presidential advisers, a clear sign he plans to run. He was supposed to be the centrist, progressive reformer, but in an unfortunate testament, I fear, to the way things are and they way they are likely to be in the 2012 campaign, Pawlenty’s recent messages include defending Joe Wilson’s “liar” outburst and attacking President Obama’s speech to students.

Next thing you know, he’ll be calling the president a jerk.

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As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, corporations and causes, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono.