Our president must be a delicate soul. Oprah has just issued a clarion call for more civility towards him. “Even if you’re not in support of his policies, there needs to be a certain level of respect,” she said

Bill Maher has also expressed concern for the president’s tender feelings, inexplicably claiming that Bill O’Reilly’s Super Bowl day interview with the president was racist. But where were these purveyors of politesse when their voices were really required?

I remember how the town erupted in hatred for George Bush when President Obama was inaugurated. There was a huge Code Pink dummy of the former president (who was often called a dummy, though his clarity and sincerity are beginning to look pretty decent these days) in front of the Mayflower Hotel and passersby were encouraged to hurl shoes at it. It was a horrible time to take a subway ride because you heard so much Bush-directed viciousness from those in town for the big event. It was torture for this civility advocate!

Victor Davis Hanson shares my consternation about the timing for this newfound love of civility:

Oprah and Maher were quiet when Nicholson Baker published his 2004 novel “Checkpoint,” imagining the death of George Bush — also the theme of a docudrama by Gabriel Range that earned him a first prize at the Toronto Film Festival.

In fact, Maher, in early 2007, said of an apparent assassination attempt against Cheney: “But I have zero doubt that if Dick Cheney was not in power, people wouldn’t be dying needlessly tomorrow . . . I’m just saying if he did die, other people, more people would live. That’s a fact.”

A weird era that was, when British liberals wrote letters to Ohio residents, beseeching them to vote against Bush in the key battleground state. A widely circulated 2004 Guardian op-ed by Charles Brooker opined, “John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley, Jr. — where are you now that we need you?”

Did Oprah deplore that climate of violence? John Glenn, Al Gore and Sen. Robert Byrd all evoked brownshirts and Nazis to demonize the president. Remember how Cindy Sheehan and her often virulently anti-Semitic rantings were used by the Democratic Party?

The civility crusade is a form of demagoguery. It is aimed at shutting up critics of the president. But in this time of such crucial debate about our nation’s future, I don’t think it is going to work. Sure, we should be more decent than Bush’s critics were, but we can’t afford to be shrinking violets (even if we have a president laden such delicate feelings that talks show hosts must counsel us never, ever to hurt his feelings). The civility campaign is a trick that has zilch to do with civlity. 

I am spotting the emergence of another trick. It purports to be one thing but is really a form of demagoguery. I refer to David Gregory’s heated call for Speaker John Boehner to denounce those who want to see the president’s birth certificate. “David, it’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” Boehner said. “The American people have the right to think what they want to think.”

For the record, Boehner said he takes the president at his word that he was born in Hawaii. I put birtherism right there with the folks who during the Clinton administration put on panels and conferences  aimed at proving Hillary killed Vince Foster, the aide who committed suicide, and then moved the body to a park. But it’s certainly not the speaker’s job to get involved with this issue. He has important, though perhaps less fun, things to occupy his time these days.

Why was Gregory pressing Boehner on such a silly matter? Putting the speaker on the spot about this issue, Gregory must have thought, could have one of two outcomes, both salubrious for the Democrats: it would either alienate Boehner from the birthers, most of whom vote Republican, or tie him to the birthers. Either way, it’s a win win for the Democrats. Like the civility campaign, this is a trick.

Not sure it will work in these parlous times.