In a sane world, Barack Obama’s exhortation to his supporters last Friday that “voting is the best revenge,” contrasted with Mitt Romney’s plea to his supporters to vote “for love of country,” would on its own be sufficient to ensure the president’s defeat on Tuesday. Obama has ended the most divisive presidency in modern history with the most divisive campaign of the modern era, and that campaign reached its nadir with the “revenge” line. No one has been able to discern exactly on whom or what Obama wants his minions to take revenge (math? Facts?). But while the words may have been nonsensical, the tone and the sentiment were unmistakably Obama at his most partisan and mean-spirited.
“Divisive?” liberals will cry. “But what about Bush?” Well, Obama’s predecessor certainly divided Americans over the invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror in general. But those were issues over which is was possible for reasonable people to disagree on principle (although the fact that those divisions largely disappeared when Obama took office suggests the objections of many on the left were anything but principled). And Bush never sought to divide. Obama, on the other hand, has deliberately and without shame exploited every existing division and grievance in American society, and created some entirely new ones.
This time four years ago, I wrote a piece for PJ Media titled “Obama and the Post-Racial Illusion,” the gist of which was that anyone who thought electing the first black president would take the issue of race out of American politics was kidding themselves. Sure enough, while Obama himself has stopped short of openly accusing his critics of racism (although he hinted at such motives during the 2008 campaign, and again in the early stages of this one), his surrogates in the media, Hollywood, and the Democratic Party have played the race card time and again, led by Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz, the hate-filled clowns of MSNBC. They’ve been abetted by a parade of print and TV reporters too numerous to name, although honorable mentions should go to Michael Tomasky and Charles Blow. Even the use by Republicans of the word “cool” to describe Obama was ruled off-limits.
Obama, meanwhile, has politicized racial issues in ways that are only slightly more subtle. One of the first signs that the man hailed as a transcendent, post-racial healer would be no such thing came in July 2009, when, just a few months after taking office, Obama interjected himself into the controversy surrounding the arrest of black professor Skip Gates, remarking that the police “acted stupidly.” More recently, he needlessly and provocatively intervened in the Trayvon Martin case, declaring that “if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
The president has been more hands-on when it comes to turning other divisions to his advantage. He’s sought at every turn to divide the rich against, not just the poor, but anyone who isn’t a “millionaire or billionaire.” He’s pitted the successful against the unsuccessful, the fortunate against the unfortunate, the hard-working against the feckless. He’s divided doctors against their patients (remember his caricaturing of doctors as tonsil-grabbing, amputation-happy money-grabbers?). He’s divided bosses against their workers with, among other things, his support for pro-union legislation. He’s pitted people of religious faith against women (with his HHS contraception mandate) and gays. He’s set decent, well-intentioned opponents of uncontrolled immigration against Hispanics.
When Obama hasn’t been stoking division, he’s been busy undermining and attacking the core institutions of American public life. In his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama disgracefully and dishonestly called out the Supreme Court over the Citizens United decision. Time and again he’s attacked Congress for failing to bend to his will, and whenever the opportunity has presented itself, he’s bypassed Congress altogether, enacting policy by the dubious use of executive powers to impose crippling environmental standards on the coal industry, circumvent immigration laws, and gut the work requirement of the 1996 welfare reform law, to give just three examples. And with the passage of Obamacare, he’s showed contempt for the Constitution itself — which should come as no surprise given that he’s on record as suggesting that the document was flawed and outdated.
Neither has this most censorious of presidents been slow to express his displeasure and disappointment with his subjects. His “bitter gun clingers” remark from 2008 is the most notorious example, but while in office he’s regularly dismissed Americans as “scared,” “angry,” or “confused,” or suggested they’re being manipulated by sinister forces, when they’ve failed to show sufficient enthusiasm for his policies.
The tone and character of Obama’s presidency should on their own be sufficient grounds for ensuring that it becomes, to use his own words, a “one-term proposition.” But many of the swing voters who will decide this election are not political junkies, and with the media running interference for the president it worked so hard to elect, Obama’s obvious disdain for so many of his country’s citizens and institutions has been largely concealed. So it’s worth touching briefly on Obama’s policies, which have brought economic stagnation to the United States, but which he proposes to not only continue with, but double-down on.
While conservatives have always favored smaller government, lower taxes, and greater economic and personal freedom, until recently it was at least possible to have a debate about the relative merits of those ideas, as opposed to believing in a larger and costlier government presiding over cradle-to-grave welfare systems. That debate is now over. In Spain, Greece, Italy, and Portugal, we’ve seen how the big government, tax and spend, “social democracy” model ends: in economic collapse, mass unemployment, protests, and riots. France, having embraced no-holds-barred socialism in an attempt to turn things around, is rapidly catching up with its southern neighbors, while here in Britain, the conservative-led coalition government is struggling to cut the national debt and dismantle the client state built by its socialist-lite predecessors.
Republicans and Democrats have both been guilty of letting government grow too big, of reckless spending and the elevation of short-term political considerations above the long-term good of the country. Now, Republicans at least acknowledge that America can’t continue down the same path, but Democrats promise more of the same. Economic ruin and national decline are what happens when conservatives make mistakes, or forget why the voters put them in office — and they’re what happens when liberals govern exactly according to plan.
Obama and his colleagues have failed as dismally abroad as they have at home. The president began his term by apologizing for what he saw as his country’s past sins, to a region of the world largely governed by dictators and religious extremists. His confused Middle East policy reached its terrible but almost inevitable denouement in Benghazi, where Americans were left to die because sending help would have resulted in a full-scale battle that would have undermined Obama’s boasts that al-Qaeda was in retreat, and exposed his misplaced faith in the Arab Spring. Elsewhere, Obama and his equally foolish and cynical secretary of State have alienated allies from Britain (by sympathizing with Argentina over the Falkand Islands dispute) to Poland and the Czech Republic (by reneging on missile defense agreements).
Would President Romney do better? In terms of policy, conservatives obviously believe so, particularly with regard to turning around the economy — it would be virtually impossible to do worse. But in terms of character, respect for one’s country’s history and its institutions, and belief in the decency and resourcefulness of its people, there’s simply no contest.
If anyone should feel the need for “revenge” Tuesday, it’s the millions of ordinary Americans who remain jobless, or whose homes have been lost, and who are seeing the cost of everything from gas to healthcare rise, while the man responsible for the mess makes no effort to conceal his irritation and impatience with them and tries to cling to power by dividing them against their neighbors. And all as he assigns blame to everyone but himself.
But Mitt Romney is right. Revenge isn’t a noble or uplifting reason for choosing a president.
Love of country is better.