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Flashback 2010 — Obama: Comparing Opponents to ‘Authoritarian, Murderous Regimes’ Shuts Down Debate

President Barack Obama remarked earlier in the week that Iranian hardliners chanting “death to America” were “making common cause” with Republicans.

On May 1, 2010 at the University of Michigan commencement address, Obama said, “vilification” of political opponents by comparing them to “authoritarian, even murderous regimes,” makes it “nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out.”

Obama said, “Now, the second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. These arguments we’re having over government and health care and war and taxes — these are serious arguments.  They should arouse people’s passions, and it’s important for everybody to join in the debate, with all the vigor that the maintenance of a free people requires.”

“But we can’t expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it.  You can question somebody’s views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism.  Throwing around phrases like ‘socialists’ and ‘Soviet-style takeover’ and ‘fascist’ and ‘right-wing nut’ — that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.”

“Now, we’ve seen this kind of politics in the past.  It’s been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation’s birth.  But it’s starting to creep into the center of our discourse.  And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized.  Remember, they signed up for it.  Michelle always reminds me of that. The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise.  It undermines democratic deliberation.  It prevents learning –- since, after all, why should we listen to a ‘fascist,’ or a ‘socialist,’ or a ‘right-wing nut,’ or a ‘left-wing nut.'”

“It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out.  It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation.  It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.”

“So what do we do?  As I found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of politics is not easy.  And part of what civility requires is that we recall the simple lesson most of us learned from our parents: Treat others as you would like to be treated, with courtesy and respect.”

Follow Pam Key On Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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