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Works and Days

What If?—Mr. President

November 8th, 2009 - 10:49 pm

Has Robert Gibbs been on Mars?

Speaking of alluding to terrorist violence for partisan political purposes, recently the anguished Press Secretary Robert Gibbs complained of the sad state of partisan debate over health care.

“Imagine five years ago somebody comparing health care reform to 9/11,” Gibbs lamented. “Imagine just a few years ago, had somebody walked around with images of Hitler.”

Is this man sane?

“Imagine?”

“Hitler” ? You think?

For the last eight years, it was considered good liberal politics to evoke Hitler in smearing George Bush. In fact, just about that time in question—when in 2003-5 the then silent Robert Gibbs had resigned as the then press secretary to presidential candidate John Kerry and had helped form a political group to attack Howard Dean and then later joined the Obama Senate campaign that was a beneficiary of the leaked divorced records of mirabile dictu both his primary and general election opponents—I wrote an article precisely about Gibbs’ present worries: the evocation of Hitler to demonize political opponents (but I don’t remember any Gibbs outrage at the time “five years ago”):

Sen. Robert Byrd (D., W.Va.) more recently likened President George W. Bush’s political methodology to what transpired in Nazi Germany. Earlier during the run-up to the Iraqi war, German Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin smeared Bush with a similar Hitlerian analogy…

In fact, what do Linda Ronstadt, Harold Pinter, Scott Ritter, Ted Rall, and George Soros all have in common? The same thing that unites Fidel Castro, the European street, the Iranians, and North Koreans: an evocation of some aspects of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany to deprecate President Bush in connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan…. But something has gone terribly wrong with a mainstream Left that tolerates a climate where the next logical slur easily devolves into Hitlerian invective. The problem is not just the usual excesses of pundits and celebrities (e.g., Jonathan Chait’s embarrassing rant in the New Republic on why “I hate George W. Bush” or Garrison Keillor’s infantile slurs about Bush’s Republicans: “brown shirts in pinstripes”), but also supposedly responsible officials of the opposition such as former Sen. John Glenn, who said of the Bush agenda: “It’s the old Hitler business.”

Thus, if former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore breezily castigates Bush’s Internet supporters as “digital brownshirts”; if current Democratic-party chairman Howard Dean says publicly, “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for” — or, “This is a struggle of good and evil. And we’re the good”; or if NAACP chairman Julian Bond screams of the Bush administration that, “Their idea of equal rights is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side,” the bar of public dissent has so fallen that it is easy to descend a tad closer to the bottom to compare a horrific killer to an American president. … Finally, in such a debased climate, it was no accident that Alfred A. Knopf published a novel, Checkpoint, about musing how to kill Bush. Nor was it odd to hear of a New York play, “I’m Gonna Kill the President,” apparently centered around killing Bush. Late last year, a columnist in the Guardian, Charles Brooker, wrote to his British readers on the eve of the election:

On November 2, the entire civilised world will be praying, praying Bush loses. And Sod’s law dictates he’ll probably win, thereby disproving the existence of God once and for all. The world will endure four more years of idiocy, arrogance and unwarranted bloodshed, with no benevolent deity to watch over and save us. John Wilkes Booth, Lee Harvey Oswald, John Hinckley Jr. — where are you now that we need you?

So again, what if, Mr. President, you had instructed Robert Gibbs instead to issue something like the following warning, “We saw this polarization five years ago with George Bush when he was unfairly demonized by the Left with unmentionable slurs and smears, so let’s not repeat that tawdry chapter in American political history in the present debate.

Blacklisted

About the same time as the health care debate, the press reported that an unnamed Democratic strategist who had appeared on Fox News got a taste of Chicago muscle. Accordingly to the Chicago Tribune,

“At least one Democratic political strategist has gotten a blunt warning from the White House to never appear on Fox News Channel, an outlet that presidential aides have depicted as not so much a news-gathering operation as a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration. The Democratic strategist said that shortly after an appearance on Fox, he got a phone call from a White House official telling him not to be a guest on the show again. The call had an intimidating tone, he said. The message was, “We better not see you on again,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to run afoul of the White House. An implicit suggestion, he said, was that “clients might stop using you if you continue.”

Instead, what if the President had told his staff, “I disagree with much of what airs on Fox News, but no one in this administration is going to strong-arm anyone from appearing on it. We believe in freedom of expression and are not about to start blacklisting those who associate with a news organization.”

Forgotten at Columbia and Harvard?

At about the time of the Fort Hood terrorist attack, the President was hosting a “Tribal Nations Conference.” At one point in his remarks, he confessed, “I know what it means to feel ignored and forgotten, and what it means to struggle. So you will not be forgotten as long as I’m in this White House.”

What does “ignored” and “forgotten” actually mean in this particular context (I do not think it is a reference to his father’s absence or his grandparents careful custodianship)? President Obama went to prep school, the elite and pricey private Occidental College, the Ivy League Columbia University, and Harvard Law School—no doubt thanks either to grants and scholarships or government-subsidized loans. Forgotten and ignored at prep school or Harvard Law Review? If so, what does that make the working classes at Cal State Bakersfield, or those who went into the Marines at 18, or those who began driving a semi at 19? In comparison to the wretched lonely ordeal at Harvard and Columbia, not forgotten and not ignored by American society?

What if instead Barack Obama had said, “We will try to do our best in government to partner with you. I know that I was not forgotten or ignored, but instead was given all sorts of private, state, and federal financial help to ensure that I could attend the most prestigious prep, undergraduate, and graduate schools in the nation. I want to ensure that all others so qualified get the same wonderful opportunities that I enjoyed.”

Ergo?

What emerges from this week’s presidential observations is a troubling image of a highly partisan, often disingenuous President—who, for some strange reason, is far more eager to castigate political enemies than he is a terrorist  who inflicted mayhem against our own American soldiers.*

Update: an earlier rough draft of this essay was mistakenly posted without editing; this latest, longer version incorporates a number of changes and additions.

__________________________

* If one thinks that is too harsh an assessment, consider this flash news release:

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — The U.S. Homeland Security secretary says she is working to prevent a possible wave of anti-Muslim sentiment after the shootings at Fort Hood in Texas. Janet Napolitano says her agency is working with groups across the United States to try to deflect any backlash against American Muslims following Thursday’s rampage by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim who reportedly expressed growing dismay over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No doubt her agency can consult The George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI) that established the Presidential Transition Task Force, which counted among its expert panelists one “Nidal Hasan
Uniformed Services University School of Medicine”—I suppose temporarily on sick leave. (Should we take bets that Hasan will return to some sort of quasi-official advisory role as part of the government’s ongoing efforts to keep us safe?)

When the entire story emerges of Hasan’s prior clear record of demonstrable hate and venom, and when such transgression is collated with the military’s inaction, and when all that is juxtaposed to the tepid, appeasing response of the Obama administration, I predict that there will be a firestorm that we have not yet witnessed. What we are enduring is surreal—have we lost our collective minds?

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