Obama received a standing ovation today after chastising politicians for what he called “vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities.” Speaking at the annual Congressional Friends of Ireland luncheon, he made remarks largely interpreted to refer to Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. The president said that political leaders can either condone the allegedly objectionable speech, or condone. At the conclusion of his remarks, Obama pleaded for civility in political discourse during this presidential election season.
Present at the luncheon were Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the President and the Prime Minister of Ireland, as well as officials from the United Kingdom. The luncheon was launched in 1991 by Democrats, among them were House Speaker Tip O’Neill and Sen. Edward Kennedy to promote peace in Northern Ireland, which has long seen ethnic and religious divisions and violence.
House Speaker Ryan delivered introductory remarks, reflecting on the connections between the United States and Ireland, as well as the heritage both he and Obama share.
Obama told the dignitaries that the whole world is watching America and hearing what political candidates are saying. "In America there aren't laws that say we have to be nice to each other ... But there are norms, there are customs, there are values that our parents taught us and that we try to teach to our children," the president said. The president said that no one should be afraid of taking children to political debates or rallies. While Obama said that he appreciated Ryan’s remarks, he said that all candidates must create an atmosphere of harmony at campaign events. The president gave assurances that, despite their policy differences, he would not insult Ryan. "The point is we can have political debates without turning on one another," Obama said. "We can disagree without assuming it is motivated by malice."
Using the occasion to intervene in the election, while foreign dignitaries listened, Obama said "We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities, and Americans that don't look like us or pray like us or vote like we do." He added, "It is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America. It has to stop," Obama said. "And I say that not as a matter of political correctness, it's about the way that corrosive behavior can undermine our democracy, and our society."
In these remarks, Obama repeated the accusations being hurled at Trump by not only Democrats and leftists, but even other Republican presidential candidates. The leftist organization funded by billionaire George Soros, MoveOn.org, is circulating an open letter co-signed by more than twenty radical and leftist political leaders promising to disrupt Trump events, while condemning what it termed his “racist” rhetoric.
Obama did, however, say that those who seek to smother free speech are "misguided." Over the March 12-13 weekend, protesters shut down a Trump rally in Chicago and sought to disrupt one in Dayton OH. He said that he opposes efforts to spread fear or “encourage violence” when people seek to speak. Lecturing his listeners, Obama said "We live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold. In response to those events we've seen actual violence, and we've heard silence from too many of our leaders."
Some persons, who he did not name, bear more of the blame for the current environment than others, but everyone share the responsibility for reversing it. Obama did not mention Trump by name at any time.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he spoke today to Trump. He said that he asked Trump to condemn violence regardless of its source. "I appreciate his call, and I took the opportunity to recommend to him that no matter who may be triggering these violent expressions or conflicts that we have been seeing at some of these rallies, it might be a good idea to condemn that and discourage it no matter what the source of it is," McConnell said. Trump had already publicly disavowed any connection to violence at his rallies and events.
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