The conservative and right-wing media were offended. The liberal and left-wing ones were amused. At the center of the tempest in the Easter basket were remarks made by President Obama at the April 6 prayer breakfast in the East Room of the White House.
Four days after the jihadist terror group Al-Shabaab killed 147 students at Kenya’s Garissa University, many or most selected for execution because they were Christian, the president told his audience that:
“On Easter I do reflect on the fact that as a Christian I am supposed to love. And, I have to say that sometimes when I listen to less-than-loving expressions by Christians, I get concerned. But that’s a topic for another day.” (Laughter)
No surprise that, as Media Matters put it, “Right-wing media freak out, claim Obama’s Easter speech maligned Christians.” (April 8)
The Washington Times fumed and declared that “President Obama casts a stone, condemns ‘less-than-loving’ Christians.” At the Daily Caller “Obama uses White House Easter prayer breakfast to malign Christians.”
The New York Times and Washington Post, stalwarts of the liberal journalism establishment, saw the whole thing more as a political operetta. The Times observed Obama as throwing “a mild poke at critics” at the breakfast while to the Post he “teases his critics.” The whole thing was just a bit of Washington political theater and good for a laugh or two.
The two sides couldn’t even agree on how his remarks were received. At The conservative American Thinker some in the audience “murmured—some with apparent disapproval, as others laughed.” The Post heard “applause and some jeering and laughter.” The Associated Press story that ran in the New York Times caught only “loud laughter from the audience.”
Maybe it mattered where in the East Room the reporter sat or if she or he was chomping on a bran muffin while others laughed or jeered or murmured.
But what are we to make of how the media ran with this story? We don’t even know whom Obama was referring to as those “less-than-loving Christians.” When asked, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said: “I don’t know.”
Many publications assumed it was the Christian couple from the Walkerton, Indiana, pizzeria, who said they would not cater a gay or lesbian wedding, although they would serve such couples if they walked into their Memories Pizza parlor.
If so, the once-president of the Harvard Law Review has turned downright silly. That, or he’s not yet ready for prime-time, late night television.
On February 5 he had presided over another prayer breakfast at the White House, and here is what he said then:
“We…see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge…or worse, sometimes used as a weapon. From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it. We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism…terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.
We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.”
The president knows that the O’Connors of Indiana, and other Christians in America like them, don’t belong in the picture he painted in February. If he was indeed referring to them as the “less-than-loving Christians,” why do it? To get a rise out of the opponents who have thwarted much of his political agenda? To get laughs and a smattering of boos? If so, he accomplished the mission.
What is there to learn from this episode? Primarily, that politics, as journalism, has joined the American entertainment nation, in which there is hardly room for thoughtfulness and gravitas.
Where have the adults in America gone? Certainly not to Washington.