Jay Cost at HorseRaceBlog takes up the Obama vs. Alito SOTU controversy:
I think it was inappropriate for the President to take a shot at the Court in the way he did. The Court’s solid reputation is a public good for the country, and it should not be tampered with, especially over a case such as the one in question…I’m sure [Alito] regrets what was an impetuous response. Obama should not have been so critical because the Court’s reputation is important yet fragile. For the same reason, Alito should have kept his counsel. Obama has a republican legitimacy that Alito lacks – and it is politically not smart for a Supreme Court justice to disagree openly with an elected official such as Obama…Altogether, I’m much more troubled by Obama’s comment than Alito’s response because Obama is so much more powerful than Alito.
Cost is correct as far as it goes. But he and many others are leaving out another important difference between the actions of the two men. Obama’s words were part of a prepared major speech, written out beforehand and planned and rehearsed with care, and then executed in full voice and full view of others. He was the focus of all eyes and cameras, and he knew it.
In marked contrast, Alito’s response was completely spontaneous, unplanned, and reactive to what Obama had said. In essence, he was sucker-punched, and he and the other justices showed remarkable self-control under the circumstances.
Alito’s reaction was also quite subtle and subdued and not really meant as a public declaration. If he had really thought about it, he might have imagined that a camera might be focused on him at that moment, but it certainly wasn’t clear that this was the case, and he was only one of hundreds in the crowd. In addition, as far as anyone can tell, he did not actually vocalize aloud, just formed the shape of the words almost to himself, in a spontaneous reaction to being attacked (and even lied about) in full view of the world.
A huge difference. Obama is immeasurably more culpable—malice aforethought. But malice seems to be an important element of his character, although the myth of his measured, rational responses continues among supporters. If things continue to go poorly for Obama and he gets more rattled, prepare to see this aspect of his personality come increasingly to the fore.