Washington Post columnist Colbert King is an around-the-clock Ethics Hero, a relentless journalist investigator and critic of government corruption in Washington. D.C. He has an impeccable sense of right and wrong, as well as intolerance for public betrayal by elected officials. Yet this undeniably ethical, fair man, who eschews rationalizations at all costs while applying rigorous ethical analysis, cannot see a double standard when it is staring back at him from his own computer screen. His is a frightening tale of the power of bias.
In today’s Post, King expresses fury and pain over last week’s despicable birther drama, feelings that I share. He is revolted at the racist undertones of the “joke” photo e-mailed to friends by an Orange County Republican official as am I. He is horrified by the high percentage of Republicans polled who question Obama’s religion and national origin, as indeed he should be And without any sense of irony, King writes…
“What’s behind all this? Why the relentless lies about Obama? It is, simply put, a crusade to bring him down.
“Make Obama out to be the “outsider” who doesn’t belong where he is. Vilify him as a cheat who, knowing he was ineligible to run for president, intentionally violated the Constitution and defrauded the American people. Marginalize him!
“Marginalize his Ivy League education and Harvard Law Review presidency. Devalue his degrees with slurs. Insinuate that merit had nothing to do with his achievements. Accuse him of lying about his religion. Repeat over and over that he’s a socialist bent on destroying free enterprise.
“Charge him with being weak. If that won’t do, denounce him as headstrong and arrogant.
“But above all else, brand him unqualified and in over his head. Yeah, that’s the one. It always works. That’ll get him out of there.”
I have good news for King: this doesn’t always “get him out of there,” and he should be able to recall a very recent example. Virtually every single, disrespectful, unfair, slanderous, libelous, cruel and dishonest tactic he described was employed against President George W. Bush while Colbert King remained silent and without protest. With the exception of the socialist theme ( which replaces the accusation that Bush was an autocratic dictator determined to destroy the Bill of Rights to serve the interests of Big Oil), Colbert’s entire indictment would have been accurate in 2004, describing Democratic treatment of the sitting president:
- The “outsider”? Check. The bias against the cowboy, Baptist, verbal-gaffe prone president was obvious. I once was kicked off an Angry Left listserv for pointing out that a good liberal member’s on-line rant that “You can’t trust Baptists like Bush—they just don’t care about people” was pure bigotry, which it was. But being bigoted against Texas Baptists was acceptable bigotry in that enclave of the Left, as it is elsewhere.
- “…who doesn’t belong where he is.” Check and double check. Not affirmative action, Trump’s current smear on Obama, but privilege. The Old Boy Network.
- “Vilify him as a cheat who intentionally violated the Constitution and defrauded the American people. Marginalize him!” Check. Not a fake birth certificate, but a “stolen election.” Almost as high a percentage of Democrats maintain the Bush’s “stole” the election from Gore as the percentage of Republicans who doubt Obama’s citizenship. The main difference? Respectable leaders of the Democratic Party encouraged the deligitimizing of Bush’s presidency.
- “Marginalize his Ivy League education and Harvard Law Review presidency…Devalue his degrees with slurs.” Check. Bush’s Yale education and Harvard Business School degree were given no respect or credibility by Democratic critics whatsoever.
- “Insinuate that merit had nothing to do with his achievements.” Check. See above.
- “Denounce him as headstrong and arrogant.” Check.
- “Above all else, brand him unqualified and in over his head.” Check and check.
The same parallels apply to King’s introductory examples of unfairness to Obama. Polls show that about a third of Democrats have been convinced that President Bush was complicit in the 9-11 bombing, calumny far worse than disputing Obama’s place of birth. And apparently the graphics portraying George Bush as a chimp, an ape or a moron—of which there are many—never troubled King as long as it was a Republican who was being devolved.
The substance of Colbert’s King’s lament is absolutely justified and accurate as it applies to the mistreatment of Obama by many of his critics. The fact that Democrats employed exactly the same tactics for eight years does not excuse Republicans, conservatives and talk-show hosts, or mitigate their misconduct.
Neither does it excuse King’s outrageous ethical blindness and hypocrisy. He deplores these tactics because they have been used against a fellow progressive, liberal, Democrat and African-American, when he should be condemning them because they are wrong-–dishonest, disrespectful, unfair, underhanded, and damaging to the country. If he believes they are wrong, no matter which President they are used to marginalize, then he should have had the integrity to say so when the target wasn’t in his ideological camp. He didn’t, because, you see, when dirty tactics are used against the enemy, they’re not dirty, they are justified. Even satisfying.
As I have written here many times, the Golden Rule doesn’t say “Do Unto Others As They Have Done To You.” Republicans who excuse their low blows against Obama by citing the treatment of Bush get no passes from me. But I am also not going to regard with anything but contempt the laments of commentators who deride those low blows against Obama yet who cheered the same level of abuse against Bush. Their ideological bias cost them their objectivity and fairness, as well as my respect. If they can’t see that the unethical nature of the tactics isn’t mitigated by the identity of the president they are used against, then their opinions are both meaningless and useless. And if ethical exemplars like Colbert King fall into this trap, it is no wonder that our political discourse continues to decline.