Slate Writer: If We’re Going to Call Out Extremist Groups, ‘We Could Start at Home With Republicans’

The linguistic tug of war over President Obama’s refusal to use the terms “Islamic extremism” or “radical Islam” has been joined, after a fashion, by Slate writer William Saletan. In a Tuesday article, Saletan mused that “maybe [Obama] should come out” and “name the enemy” -- specifically, make it clear that “the GOP is trying to destroy him.”

“Anyone who has watched Obama’s genteel response to his Republican tormentors shouldn’t be surprised at his delicacy about Islam,” wrote Saletan. “He resists generalizations and looks for common ground, whether the context is terrorism or domestic politics.”

Saletan recommended that “if we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.”

From Saletan’s piece (bolding added):

Sept. 11. Afghanistan. Iraq. Fort Hood. The ground zero mosque. ISIS. Paris.

Again and again, Republicans demand to know why President Obama won’t name the enemy. They say he’s too forgiving, too afraid of ideological conflict, too reluctant to wage all-out war, too eager to find people of good will on the other side.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe he should come out and say it: The GOP is trying to destroy him.

Anyone who has watched Obama’s genteel response to his Republican tormentors shouldn’t be surprised at his delicacy about Islam. He resists generalizations and looks for common ground, whether the context is terrorism or domestic politics. No matter what Republicans do—heckle his speeches, impugn his patriotism, shut down the government, threaten a credit default, stage countless votes to repeal his health care law—he refuses to categorically condemn them…

Last fall, Republicans captured the Senate by running a nationwide campaign against Obama. But in his State of the Union address on Jan. 20, the president held out an olive branch. There isn’t “a liberal America or a conservative America,” he argued. There’s only “a United States of America.” He acknowledged that pundits considered his bipartisan optimism naïve. But he concluded, “I still believe that we are one people.”

Republicans responded with derision.

On Feb. 1, Obama was asked in an NBC interview about the mockery of him during the State of the Union. He shrugged it off as good-natured “ribbing” and changed the subject: “What I want us to focus on is the areas we have in common”…

…Even last Friday, in his speech to the Democratic National Committee, five of Obama’s nine references to Republicans were positive. “If Republicans are serious about taking on the specific challenges that face the middle class,” he pleaded, “we should welcome them.”

That’s how Obama treats his domestic adversaries. He doesn’t take the bait. He doesn’t define the whole opposition party by its worst elements. He rejects polarization. He emphasizes shared values. He reminds his own partisans that they, too, are sinners.

For Democrats, this can be exasperating. It’s especially exasperating when Republicans refuse to take responsibility for, or even disown, outbursts from their colleagues, such as Rep. Joe Wilson’s “You lie!” or Rudy Giuliani’s “I do not believe that the president loves America”…

…If we’re going to start calling out religious and political groups for extremism, we could start at home with Republicans. Too many of them spew animus. Too many foment sectarianism. Too many sit by, or make excuses, as others appeal to tribalism. If Obama were to treat them the way they say he should treat Islam—holding the entire faith accountable for its ugliest followers—they’d squeal nonstop about slander and demagogy. They’re lucky that’s not his style.

Foreign Policy Iraq Syria War on Terrorism Conservatives & Republicans Religion Islam Moderate Islam Slate William Saletan Barack Obama


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