Obama and the Politics of Personal Destruction
The president and his party are in a fix.
At their moment of great political ascendancy -- when they control both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and a recession has rocked faith in free market capitalism -- they still can’t get the country to go along with their big government schemes.
Each day brings a new batch of bad polling news for the president. The public is wary of his spending, is convinced he is too liberal, and doesn’t much care for ObamaCare. Meanwhile, the speaker of the house has Dick Cheney-like poll numbers and the Democrats’ generic poll numbers have slid.
Under such circumstances, the only reasonable thing to do is attack the voters and the Republican Party. That at least seems to be the conclusion reached by the Obama White House, which now is convinced that smearing citizens who bother to come to town hall meetings and painting their opponents as intransigent critics of all reform -- or as fruitcakes -- are the keys to success.
And from Obama himself, the once presidential candidate who wanted to have civil discourse and get beyond name calling, the message to his critics is: "get out of the way." Anyone who disagrees with ObamaCare is now a crank, a stooge, or an obstructionist. Even the Washington Post editors have had quite enough of the "round-up-the-usual-suspects demagoguery."
The White House’s attempt to paint ordinary citizens who come to speak out against ObamaCare as pawns of the insurance industry takes on a comical air when one considers the president’s own background and tactics. As Charles Krauthammer remarked:
There is a certain irony in an administration denouncing ordinary Americans who get together to express what they believe and to confront authority, when that administration is led by a man who began his career as a community organizer, whose job, as I understand it, is to take ordinary Americans, get them together to express what they believe, and express demands against the authorities.
So it's unbelievably hypocritical. And, of course, as we just heard, this only happens when you have a conservative protest. It is called a mob. If it’s a liberal protest, it is called grassroots expressing themselves.
Remember, just a year ago under the Bush administration, dissent was the highest form of patriotism. And today it is a kind of either organized anger, it's a facsimile of anger, it's unpatriotic, it's whatever.
Ultimately, the “blame the voters” tactic is self-defeating, if not downright embarrassing. The White House can’t demean the voters whose support they need. They must persuade and engage, not spy on and smear the town hall attendees.
So “Plan B” is the old White House standby: argue that Republicans are opposed to even the idea of reform and are fringe radicals verging on being threats to America. Obama persists in telling crowds that Republicans are in favor of the status quo and against giving health care to the poor or uninsured. Of course, Sen. Jim DeMint, Rep. Paul Ryan, and Rep. Tom Price have all suggested reforms which aim to reform the health care system, provide all Americans with tax credits to buy insurance, promote insurance competition, and reduce unneeded medical expenditures by reforming the tort system. But the president persists.
Alternatively, the president’s spin-squad (i.e., the mainstream media) has decided to take up the fringe conspiracy theory claiming Obama was not born in the U.S. and run with it, in a rather transparent attempt to portray Republicans as lunatics -- or even subversive. As James Kirchick pointed out:
It is not Obama's right-wing opponents, however, who are devoting the most attention to this obscure, Internet-driven "movement," if one can even use that label to describe such a paranoid groupuscule . Rather, it's liberals, bent on portraying their conservative opponents as extremists -- and changing the subject to help a President under increasing scrutiny for the substance of his policies -- who are driving this story. ...
Far from seeing these charges as any sort of real threat to Obama's legitimacy, liberals report every outburst of the birther brigades with glee -- because they derive maximum political benefit from stirring up the story as long as possible. Why debate the intricacies of a massive overhaul of the nation's health care system when you can conflate principled conservative critics of the program with a bunch of nutty conspiracy theorists?
And that has been Obama’s favored tactic since taking office. There was the effort to “Limbaugh-ize” the GOP rather than debate the merits of the stimulus. Now the “birthers” play the decoy role while the administration flounders in the health care debate.
Will any of this work? In some sense, one suspects the White House is only making matters worse. They are behind in the health care debate, losing the message to their conservative critics. It is hard to see how using valuable air time insulting voters or telling tales about fringe conspiratorialists will help shift public opinion on a serious matter of public policy. It assumes the public has the unlimited capacity to be bamboozled.
Among the many myths which Obama perpetrated was the notion that he would lift the public discourse. But now, at their moment of greatest political peril, Obama and his enablers have nothing to offer but the politics of personal destruction.
We were hoping for so much better.