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The Clock Is Ticking

We keep hearing that now is not the time for partisan politics. When would be a good time?

A. Barton Hinkle
August 16, 2011

"It's time for leadership, not petty partisan politics," declares Courtney Lynch, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Virginia. She raises an interesting point, albeit unintentionally: When is it time for petty partisan politics rather than leadership? If now is not a good time, when would be?

Not last January, that's for sure. Back then, President Obama gave a speech outlining his plan to prevent terrorism. "Now is not a time for partisanship," he declared. "It's a time for citizenship."

Never let it be said the president does not know what it is the time for, and what it is not the time for. In September 2008, he told the Democratic National Convention that "now is not the time for small plans." The following January, he observed that while there was a time for profits and bonuses on Wall Street, "now is not the time." In mid-July this year, he warned Republicans: "Now is not the time to play games."

On the other hand, during the debate over health care last March, Obama noted that there were "plenty of folks in Washington who've ... argued now is not the time for reform. ... My question to them is: When is the right time? If not now, when?" He's a sharp one, that Obama!

Yet despite the president's skill at time-telling, some people still think he needs help. The Illinois GOP, for instance: "The chairman of Illinois' Republican Party contends this is not an appropriate time for President Obama to hold a Chicago fundraiser," news stories reported the other day.

Not long before, Matthew Norman, a columnist for the London Telegraph, suggested Obama needed to man up. "Now Is Not the Time for a Pacifist President," he wrote.

Norman is not alone. In June, erstwhile GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty told the Council on Foreign Relations that "now is not the time to retreat from freedom's rise." How about in, like, half an hour?

Who else knows what time it is? House Speaker John Boehner certainly does. In January of last year, Boehner said it was not the time to debate "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." A month later, a Boehner spokesman wondered why Obama "thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue that sharply divides the nation."

After Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts, Boehner tweeted that with Nancy Pelosi determined to push health-care reform, "[now is] not the time to give up." A couple of weeks ago, Boehner declared that "now is not the time to increase taxes in any way."

Virginia's Eric Cantor agreed: "I insist again that now is not the time for us to be considering tax hikes," he said. Last March, Cantor told the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that "now is not the time to be picking fights with Israel."

Just to be clear, that means now is the time for neither a pacifist president, nor one who picks fights—nor one who retreats from freedom's rise. Talk about having to walk a fine line.

What else is it not the time for? A carbon tax (Sydney Morning Herald), judging Tiger Woods (Jason Whitlock, Fox Sports), cutting critical government programs (Richard Cizek, The Hill), Phillies Fans acting like insufferable jerks (NBC Philadelphia) or energy-starved India to increase nuclear dependency (The Guardian).

It's also not the time for cities to aim lower (Sam Newburg, Joe-Urban.com), fiscal restraint (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), a voter-ID bill (South Carolina state Sen. Yancey McGill), a new Mideast peace plan (Rahm Emanuel), greed in the NFL (Honolulu Star-Advertiser), a war on Libya (Florida Rep. Chris Gibson), or for Congress to oppose creating jobs in Montana (Montana Sen. John Tester).

No wonder nobody ever seems to get anything done. It's never the right time for anything!

The now-is-not-the-time meme is a variation of the straw-man argument, in which you state a position nobody actually endorses and then knock it down. The president loves that trick. "There are those who suggest that nothing government can do will make a difference," he has said—along with "there are those who would continue and intensify this failed status quo," "there are those who would perpetuate every form of intolerance," "there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science" and many more. Yet he never actually says who the "who" in There-Are-Those-Who are.

Unlike There-Are-Those-Who-Say, Now-Is-Not-the-Time may reflect the other side's actual position. After all, there are (in fact) those who say taxes should be raised, gays should serve in the military, and so on. Rather than confront such an argument head on, the pols invoking Now-Is-Not-the-Time try to dodge the merits of the question by implying the issue might be worth exploring—someday.

But just try to set up a date.

A. Barton Hinkle is a columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.



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