Budowsky bases his argument mainly on the disagreement the President recently had with a lot of Democrats over trade legislation. But he suggests that it went beyond a disagreement.
It was political malpractice for Obama to have spent a month dishing personal and political insults against prominent liberal Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), organized labor and liberals across America during the trade debate.This is a narrative that gathered a lot of momentum a few weeks ago and largely went unchallenged. I think that's because we don't pay enough attention to the difference between political disagreements and personal insults. From what I saw, President Obama disagreed with Sen. Warren about TPP. But I'd challenge the notion that he engaged in personal attacks against her.
The exchange most often used as an example of President Obama attacking Sen. Warren is his interview with Matt Bai. Yes, the President said she was "wrong." But that hardly counts as personal attack. It's pretty much what you'd assume someone thinks when they disagree.
The one thing from that interview that is most commonly cited as a personal insult is when Obama said this:
The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else. And you know, she’s got a voice that she wants to get out there. And I understand that.On the face of it, that is simply a true statement...Sen. Warren is a politician. But true statements can be used as a subtle form of personal insult. So after hearing people interpret this one that way, I went back and watched the video again to get the context.
What is completely ironic is that President Obama made that statement in response to Bai saying this about the arguments Warren was making: "It's getting personal, though, isn't it?" The President responded by basically saying, "No, its not personal, Elizabeth is a politician." He was doing the exact opposite of how it's been characterized in making an attempt to take it out of the personal realm. Was it an in-artful attempt? Perhaps. But his intention was to refute the idea that the disagreement between he and Senator Warren was personal.
I actually think that both Senator Warren and President Obama deserve kudos for handling this disagreement respectfully. That's exactly what the President talked about in his last State of the Union speech when he urged us to engage in a "better politics."
A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears. A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues and values, and principles and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives...As liberals, we should recognize the difference between disagreements and personal insults. We belong to a party with a variety of views and perspectives. Robust arguments over our differences are something to embrace. To see that as insulting only weakens our position. We should be able to agree to disagree.
If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments, but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.