Last night, President Barack Obama gave a speech to the Democrat National Convention. It was a powerful speech, and he delivered it well. And, had he not been the current, sitting President, then what he said would have been fine. Unfortunately, he is the sitting President and that makes what he said unprecedentedly unpresidential.
The President must hold himself (or potentially herself) to a higher standard of nonpartisan behavior for the good of the country. If we have a President who appears to care more about people of his own party than the rest of the nation, then our political divides will worsen. Most Presidents have understood this, starting with George Washington who warned against factionalism in the first place. This President, our current President has shown he is unwilling to behave as a unifier. His only inclination is division, and it comes through in his words.
Now, so that you don't just think I'm being reflexively critical of Obama because I'm a conservative and therefore full of hate and racist bigotry and wouldn't ever give Obama a chance, I'm going to compare what he said to what other two-term, sitting Presidents have said at their party's conventions. We have three other examples to use in our comparison, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ronald Reagan; two Republicans and a Democrat.
Here is how our sitting President referred to the opposition party, who, remember, are also American citizens.
That is unprecedented in American history. Never before has the sitting President described other Americans as fanning hate on a nationally televised speech at his own party's convention. That type of rhetoric wasn't even used by Lincoln about Democrats who had declared war on him! George W. Bush did describe Democrats as being "angry" during his RNC Speech in 2008. But, there is a difference between saying someone is "angry" and someone is "fanning hate." One statement is a description of how people feel. The other is an accusation of what people are doing. Clinton described Republicans as simply Republicans. He didn't say they were fanning the flames of hate. He said he thought they were wrong, but not hateful. There's a big difference. If you really want to see the difference between what Mr. Obama said and what a unifying presidential figure said, look to Reagan in 1988. What word did he use to describe the members of the opposite party? "Friends." Our friends. He said it multiple times. Our friends. President Obama accused other Americans of fanning hate. President Reagan called other Americans his friends.
Do you want to know why Americans are more divided now than they were at anytime in most of our lives? Look to the words that routinely come out of our President's mouth. By accusing other Americans of fanning hate he is sowing division and that is not what a President should ever do. Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. The President's divisive language continued in another unprecedented way.
Do you know how many times George W Bush referred to Barack Obama in his 2008 speech? Zero. Guess how many times Bill Clinton referred to George W Bush in his party speech in 2000. Zero. How many times did Ronald Reagan refer to Michael Dukakis in 1988? Zero. Never before has a sitting, two-term President stooped so low into partisan politics to attack the opposition candidate by name in his televised party convention's address. Never. Barack Obama referred directly to Donald Trump 20 times in his speech and every mention was negative. That level of pettiness by a sitting President is unprecedented.
One of the things all four of these Presidents did in their final convention speeches was to make an argument as to why their party's nominee should become their successor. All of them did it. But, Barack Obama's campaigning for Hillary Clinton during his speech was, once again, way beyond the norms of past presidential behavior. In 1988, Reagan mentioned George H. W. Bush 12 times. Clinton mentioned Al Gore 16 times. By those standards, George W. Bush was much more partisan in 2008. He talked about John McCain 33 times. That all pales to what Obama did. Last night, he made 68 references to Hillary Clinton. 68. That's almost as many times as he talked about himself! Here's one of those 68 references.
The President must know that what he's doing isn't good for the country. He has to know that. If he would listen to his own words, he'd have to become convicted of his own failings. Not demonizing each other includes not saying your political opposition is fanning hate. But, this is the same president who once referred to Republicans as "our enemy." How is that not demonizing each other? He doesn't seem to think that he's at fault here. Instead, he is unprecedentedly unpresidential in his petty partisan politics.
There's an old saying, "the fish stinks from the head". The stench in America today is coming from our Head-of-State. If you're wondering why our nation is so divided these days; if you're wondering why friends are deleting each other on Facebook over politics; the answer is that for the past eight years, our Head-of-State has been incapable of being a true statesmen. When historians looks back at this President, that is what they will find was truly unprecedented about Barack Obama.