Religious Right Is Shocked That Obama Did Just What He Said He Would Do

In a sane, rational political climate, it would be possible to disagree — even quite passionately — with  a government policy or a presidential decision and still have a respectful and meaningful public dialogue among people of strongly differing positions on particular issues. But for that to happen, there would need to be people on both sides — or on all sides — who had an informed, reality-based understanding of concepts such as “common ground” and “respect” — who could hear what another person said and actually understand what the words meant, and separate the meaning of the words from the question of whether the listener agreed or disagreed. Not to mention media outlets that misrepresent the facts and faithfully repeat the lies and distortions of the far right without making any attempt to set the record straight.

That is not the political climate we live in, unfortunately. Which is why we get media reports like this one, by Carrie Budoff Brown in Politico, about Pres. Obama’s decision to reverse the Bush administration’s ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research:

He called for reducing abortions and seeking common ground on one of the nation’s most divisive issues — promises that led some on the right to think maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama was a different kind of Democrat.

But no more.

A series of decisions in the past two months — capped by an announcement Monday that he’s abolishing Bush-era limits on embryonic stem cell research — has led to a reassessment of Obama by some Christian conservative and other religious leaders, who now charge him with inflaming the very cultural divisions he once pledged to heal.

In fact, Obama’s stem cell decision sparked a volley of rhetoric reminiscent of the height of the culture wars that defined American politics through the 1990s.

And somehow that’s Obama’s fault, and not the fault of those “Christian conservative” leaders — despite the fact that the “rhetoric” is completely divorced from the reality of what Obama said during the campaign?

“It has really been a disappointment,” said Brian Burch, president of Fidelis and CatholicVote.org. “The people who argued during the campaign that Obama’s pro-life rhetoric represented a reason to be hopeful have been totally discounted. We are 60 days in, and he has taken advantage of every opportunity to shut the door on any consensus building on the issue.”

This must be a different Obama that Burch is talking about — not the Obama who campaigned for the presidency for two years and now sits in the Oval Office. Or, as Steve Benen puts it, “I haven’t the foggiest idea what these people are talking about.”

Obama has weighed in on some culture-war issues, lifting the global gag-rule, beginning the process to scrap “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and yesterday ending Bush-era restrictions on stem-cell research. All of these steps, to my mind, were encouraging.

But they were also entirely predictable. Candidate Obama said he would take these steps, and sure enough, President Obama is doing just that. It makes sense for conservatives to voice their disapproval, but why are they shocked?

There seems to be a sense that the president’s outreach to those who disagree with him on these hot-button issues isn’t enough. Merely listening to the far-right on stem-cell research, and respecting their beliefs, is insufficient. (Obama said yesterday, “[M]any thoughtful and decent people are conflicted about, or strongly oppose, this research. And I understand their concerns, and I believe that we must respect their point of view. But after much discussion, debate and reflection, the proper course has become clear.” This stands in contrast to the last several years — the Bush White House said supporters of expanded stem-cell research endorse “murder.”)

It seems likely, then, that the right is going to be both surprised and disappointed quite a bit in the coming years.

Distracted, too, since neither Republican leaders nor the Republican-friendly media can follow along when Obama walks across the street while chewing gum.

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