Instead Obama chose the -hyphenated route. That identification played dividends in the primaries as his newfound black fides in key states helped to swamp liberal Hillary, wife of our first “black” President. Suddenly Democrats of all people were voting on mostly black/white lines. Subsequently in his hubris, Obama and his surrogates could from time to time lecture the citizenry on their assorted bias and sins, from racial profiling and stupid policing to their cowardly aversion to racial conversations.
But now what follows from that? When Obama’s polls dived—as they once did likewise for Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush—critics could prove to be loud and obnoxious. But in reaction, as the President’s unpopularity mounts, does he then go back to the buckler of race again—but this time castigating the public for its intemperance rather than as before appealing to its liberalism? Let us get this straight: Americans have transcended race when they voted for Obama, but revert to hopeless racists when they critique him in the manner of past skepticism about Presidential policy?
One can see how the issue can explode as it did with the Gatesgate incident. And when the inept and unpopular Gov. Patterson (D—NY) cried “racism” in New York, the gambit proved devastatingly counter-productive. In short, Obama is now simply a normal President with sliding polls; if he tries to evoke his singular heritage in his decline for political advantage as he did in his ascendancy with real profit, his Presidency could implode. The current public has had it with blame-gaming and victimization of any sort, and will have little tolerance for any who play that card.
It used to be sort of cute to talk of media bias in favor of Obama. The President even made jokes about the infatuation, adding insult to injury in the sense he (ungratefully) seemed to be laughing at the mainstream media for mortgaging their reputations to enlist in his cause. Robert Gibbs in his first few days presided over an “enchanted” throng, not the usual attack-dog press. But now?
It will be hard to believe administration complaints about the You Tube hyped coverage of the Town Hallers and Tea-Partiers. Obama and Company have already complained that the media has jazzed up the health-care protests and that media frenzy is in part responsible for sinking poll numbers. But once you crow over how you’ve mesmerized the print and electronic press, it simply does not work trashing them for unfair reporting. Again, be careful of the climate that you construct.
4) Dissent and the Good Protestor
Between 2001-8, luminaries like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama were sympathetic to those protesting on the barricades. Anti-Bush demonstrations were welcomed. Pelosi even praised the loud antics of Moveon.org. How many times were we lectured about “community organizing”? Remember ACORN? The call for grass-roots action in The Audacity of Hope? The Obama tenure on the Annenberg Foundation?
Once upon a time, we were supposed to think two things about protests: 1) they were good, since they served as teachable moments about the evil Bush/Cheney nexus, Iraq, and the pseudo-war on terror; 2) and Barack Obama was a barricades sort of guy who organized the people to stand up to the establishment. (Cf. Michelle Obama’s warning about her husband’s organizing talents when he was elected to the Senate.)
And now? What about these town-hallers and Tea-party activists? By virtue of speaking truth to power, are they likewise patriotic and authentic voices of dissent? Or have they become disruptive, unpatriotic, and mean-spirited by virtue of opposing The One? Again, be careful what you wish for. If you believe in town hall organizing, prepare to get town hall organized.
5. The Extremes
Also once upon a time, a leftist used to write a novel about killing George Bush (cf. Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint). Mainstream figures from John Glen to Al Gore compared their President to Nazis and brown shirts. A movie envisioning the killing of Bush won acclaim. Michael Moore weighed in, from hoping the insurgent “minutemen” won in Iraq to lamenting the fact that bin Laden had hit a blue-state. The race card was played constantly: Harry Belafonte slurred Colin Powell as a house slave; Howard Dean accused Republicans of Jim-Crow like attitudes. To read the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, Bob Herbert, or Frank Rich was to experience a visceral hatred toward George Bush. I could go on. The Left after 2002 had become the Right circa 1951—often unhinged, humorless, prone to conspiracy theory, full of venom.
Few moderate Democrats objected; Michael Moore was even courted at his premiere by Democratic kingpins. No one advised a Dick Durban, Ted Kennedy, or John Kerry to cool the rhetoric about American soldiers as terrorists, Saddamists, Nazis, and Pol Pot. The result is that there is now an established loud, furious leftwing base that during the Bush years became inured to bombastic rhetoric and was not open to reasonable debate and disagreement.
Obama rode to victory on such activism. He surfed on the crest of the loud anti-war movement. He voiced no dissent amid the twenty-years of Rev. Wright vitriol that cemented his reputation as an authentic black Chicagoan. We all knew that extremists like Bill Ayers and Father Pfleger were closer to Obama than he let on.
The result is that President Obama, to be consistent, should see as healthy any grass roots movement against establishment policies. And his own past activism and rhetoric leave him little wiggle room in the present health-care debates—a crisis that was entirely fabricated by his own effort to ram through in a matter of days a 1,000-page mess that would radically change the American economy.
Yet already in the health care raucous, he is being attacked for going soft by liberal activists. Furious left-wingers pounce on him for not going negative and confronting the Town-hallers. Base supporters wonder whether he is partisan enough (ironic—since polls show that he is sinking because of his partisanship and statism that are losing independents and moderates), and urge him to take off the gloves.
Again, life is rough for the community organizer who is getting out community organized.
Call all this what you will—the ends don’t justify the means; what comes around goes around; be careful what you wish for, etc. But the fact is that the President has now been boxed in—by the President himself.