Now that Obama has been in office over seventy days, the second phase of the strategy has been unveiled as Republicans across the board suggest that he is a divider and polarizer.
By Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / April 12, 2009
Gingrich tactics now deployed against Obama
Shocked by the results of the 2008 election, Republicans went back to the Newt Gingrich playbook for tactics to put them back in power. Newt again became a major Republican guru, as the party recommitted itself to obstructionism. Despite the crises the nation faced, it dedicated itself to trying to block Obama’s recovery efforts. Rush Limbaugh offended some GOP friends by giving away the central GOP game when he frankly said he hoped the new president failed. The tactic was to work to prevent success while briefly saying nice things about President Barack Obama.
Now that Obama has been in office over seventy days, the second phase of the strategy has been unveiled as Republicans across the board suggest that he is a divider and polarizer. Paint him as a dangerous radical. There is no need to offer details.
This is very similar to the treatment Bill Clinton received. Though he was a thorough-going centrist, Republicans launched a concerted efforts to delegitimize him. Both Clinton and Obama were denied honeymoons because their views were radical.
In Clinton’s case, Republicans spawned the “Arkansas Project “to dig up dirt on Whitewater, which led to a new investigation. A sickly partisan judicial panel removing a fair investigator in order to facilitate a fiercely partisan probe. We might also recall that early in the Clinton years, it was revealed that many Republican columnists actually coordinate their columns and talking points. Today, it is obvious that this remains their modus opperendi.
This time Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh rant on about socialism, communism and nationalization. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota laments that there may be no rich people in America as a result of Obama’s policies. Glenn Beck is even frothing about goose-stepping Nazis, black helicopters, and detention centers, forgetting that potentially dangerous FEMA policies and the alleged detention centers were results of the policies of Ollie North, Ronald Reagan, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.
At the other end of the GOP information spectrum so-called moderates make the same case without all the wild language. Republican columnist Michael Gerson writes that Barack Obama is the “most polarizing new president.” David Brooks, another writer who has credentials as a reasonable Republican, seems close to this position. Neither, has been able to make a case for such a claim, but Gerson performs some rather astonishing mental gymnastics to support his contention. Ever so briefly, Gerson, Brooks and Katherine Parker seemed a bit off the Republican reservation as they suggested that Sarah Palin might not be the best candidate in 2012 and argued that the party should be something other than the Party of No and Obstructionism. Now they are safely back on the reservation and reading off of the official script.
The vagueness of the GOP charges examined
Several weeks ago, E.J. Dionne questioned these vague charges against Obama and the claim that he was a radical. My guess is that what bothered the GOP most was that the stimulus plan contained many provisions to strengthen the safety net for the poor. As recently as three months ago, there were fewer people on welfare than a quarter of a century ago. That is a measure of how much damage the welfare reform of 1996 had done to the poor, marginalized and helpless. Obama was temporarily reversing this supreme Republican accomplishment, and they were infuriated.
It is also likely that they are bothered that there is a danger of enacting a universal health care plan that would take care of all Americans. Bill and Hillary Clinton ran into a buzz saw of criticism when they attempted to enact a plan that threatened the interests of the insurance companies.
Most Republicans, other than a handful of governors in very red states who have turned back money for the poor and unemployed, cannot come out and say they are against helping the poor lest some undeserving folks benefit. Now days, they even have to mask their opposition to a health plan that might not sufficiently enrich the insurance companies. Vagueness explained!
David Gerson was vague about what made Obama so radical, but he said Obama was divisive because the President was not getting Republican support in Congress. As evidence, Gerson notes that not one Republican voted for the Obama budget. Well, not one Republican voted for Clinton’s first budget. Does this mean that Republicans are hyper-partisan or that both Obama and Clinton are wild radicals. Does Gerson remember Clinton’s success in battling deficits?
There was briefly an effort on the part of conservative Democrats to add to the budget a Republican plan to strip the government of $93 billion in revenue over a decade by raising the limit for inheritance tax. Now that concession stands as a separate proposal and is supported by ten conservative Democratic Senators. This is probably the sort of thing Gerson would see as evidence of moderation and bipartisanship.
Then Gerson serves up the claim that Obama’s budgets would greatly increase debt over a decade, without noting that most of the debt in the five out years was a result of entitlements in place long before Obama took office. He cuts Obama no slack on interest payment incurred before he took office or as part of a stimulus package.
Gerson sketches a strange picture of our recent past. The fact is that Democrats provided Nixon and Reagan with votes to pass some of their initiatives in part because they had been elected to the White House and should have been given some co-operation. Democrats also helped the Bushes pass legislation. True, they rejected some extremist nominees to the courts. Democrats have a history of functioning as a party of government. By contrast, Republicans have been delaying the confirmation of executive branch nominees and have already listed endless conditions for the approval of judicial nominees.
We heard that there were no Republican ideas incorporated in the stimulus package at the same time that Senator Kit Bond ran around Missouri bragging about how he rolled the Democrats by adding all sorts of local goodies and then refusing to vote for the package. It is a simple fact that Obama, up front, included too much in tax relief in a failed effort to attract Republican votes for the stimulus. He obviously misread their motives and mindset.
Gerson does not comment on the stimulus, but he laments that Republicans were “flattened, not consulted” in the budget process. He offers no proof of this sweeping generalization. Does he remember the multiple times when Democratic committee members were actually locked out of committee meetings when Republicans ran the House? Sometimes Republican chairmen refused to let Democrats attend, instead permitting lobbyists to join in the marking up process. Sometimes Democrats were kept off conference committees. Gerson has also forgotten that Obama’s proposed down payment for health care was stripped out of the budget, as was the reserve for another TARP.
Republicans blame Obama for letting Congress write both the stimulus and the budget. This argument, fleshed out by other Republican propagandists, is that the President should have written both to see that Republican thought was reflected in them. We had the examples of Carter and Clinton who had serious problems with their own party in Congress because they overlooked the prerogatives of Democrats on the hill. Gerson would place Obama in this no win situation, without explaining it to his readers.
Gerson implies that Republicans would have been more generous with their votes had he made even more concessions. The fact is that Republicans have come to march in lock-step, as though they belonged to a European style parliamentary party rather than to an American political party. In Clinton’s case, they only provided votes when they got exactly what they wanted, a massive assault on the welfare system, telecommunications “reform” that turned over the airwaves to giant corporate interests and opening the door to endless cable rate hikes, and, of course, the deregulatory reforms that have now wiped out most of our retirement savings and some pension plans.
Now we read that Eric Cantor, number two Republican leader in the House and a self-proclaimed expert in Gingrich tactics, sent out a memo to all Republicans instructing them to harass freshmen Democrats whenever they try to speak. In the first instance this tactic was deployed, a new Democrat trying to talk about health care reform was badgered about alleged Democratic responsibility for AIG bonuses.
Another sign of radicalism is that Congressional Democrats is talking about the possibility of enacting “controversial elements of the budget” using the budget reconciliation rule. This would mean 51 votes in the Senate rather than the “normal 60.” More bad history! Bob Dole began the process of threatening a filibuster against any piece of legislation the GOP disliked. No rule would be violated if the budget reconciliation process were used. Gerson forgets that the Republicans frequently used this process to lower taxes for the rich and for other partisan purposes.
This leads us to what must be bothering Gerson — health care. The Democrats cannot pass universal health care without invoking the budget reconciliation rule. Even with the rule, they will have to have some sweeteners for the Democrats who are owned by the health insurance industry. He may say that the cap and trade energy program will come under the rule as well, but it is unlikely that Democrats from troubled industrial states will stand still for this.
Gerson ignores Obama’s many concessions to the Right
While accusing Obama of being a “source of division,” Gerson overlooks all the positions Obama has taken to appease the Right. The fact is that Obama is a uniter, and most Americans perceive this. What Gerson and other Republican propagandists are doing is attempting to transform one of Obama’s greatest strength into a weakness.
President Obama’s health care program concedes too much to the insurance companies, even though these concessions add unnecessary cost. In Iraq, he lengthened the timetable for withdrawal. He has continued renditions, stood behind Bush’s uses of the state secret privilege, not asked for a rewrite of the Patriot Act, and appears to have continued the sweeping and questionable wiretapping program begun by a rightist regime. Despite loud Republican laments about socialism and nationalizing banks, Obama has not nationalized the banks and has adopted a bail-out plan that looks too much like the Paulson Plan. Even though the UAW supported Obama in the campaign, Obama has been tougher on Detroit than Bush was. There are even indications that Obama will not go nearly as far as the Europeans and many progressives ask in regulating financial markets. Obama has done nothing to encourage or help Congressional probes of abuses of power under Bush. Yet, we hear that he is an extremist and a very polarizing figure???
This effort to delegitimize is about a young black man in the White House
One reason Republicans are so vague in their charges is that they need to suggest that this young, African American president is a radical — an angry black man — with some sort of dangerous, unspecified agenda. Hence, a substitute for right-wing broadcaster Laura Ingram said that Michelle Obama was a “tramp.” Senator Richard Shelby tells Alabama constituents that Obama probably was not born in the United States. Taking a page from Joe McCarthy’s playbook, Spencer Bachus of Alabama tells voters that he has the names of 17 Congressmen who were socialists. He seemed to be answering Michele Bachmann’s demand for an investigation of anti-Americanism among Congressmen. They did not mention Obama, but there is no mystery about what their findings would be. Rush Limbaugh, who does what passes for thinking on behalf of over 20,000,000 voters, blended Obama’s name with that of a ruthless African dictator, in the most recent of his many racist comments.
It all plays to racial animosities. At this writing, Obama’s approval rating in the South stands at 41%. Last Sunday, CNN reporter John King interviewed three whites in Tennessee about Obama’s foreign trip. These good folks were relieved that he did not embarrass himself or his country.
Obama has said nothing about further gun control, but ammo and gun sales started going up the day after he was elected. Even after the terrible killings in Binghamton and Pittsburgh, Obama is not talking about what the Second Amendment might mean. The crazed shooter of three policemen in Pittsburgh was certain Obama would take his guns and was also convinced that Jews run the world. Vague, unspecific charges inflame people like this and many others who are not demented but are prisoners of what we hope will be a bygone culture.
At the far right of the Republican spectrum, Obama is not viewed as a legitimate leader due to his race and also because his policies are considered “liberal.” For more than two decades, movement Republicans have bathed in a sea of ugly, toxic propaganda to which they have slowly become prisoners. For more than two decades, Republicans have been in battle mode, overdosing on rhetoric that feeds rage and irrational fears.
This is not to suggest that all Republicans, or their more moderate pundits, share any racism with some southern folks or the NRA survivalists. But at some level their thought processes have been disrupted and steered into the conviction that progressive Democrats could not be good Americans or be really entitled to govern this great land. The war on terror rhetoric deepened these views and persuaded most Americans that they had to acquiesce in the surrender of basic rights in exchange for physical safety.
It’s not surprising that the governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, recently insulted the President of the United States and his office. Noting that the president would visit Nevada in May, Gibbons sent a proper note inviting Obama to visit him. But the invitation was released with a ridiculing and complaining press release that could only have been intended as an insult and un-invitation, this strange thought Obama did not merit the respect due other occupants of the Oval Office. Gibbons went off party script when he complained that the stimulus plan sent too little to Nevada. Cut him a break, he was busy sending hundreds of text messages to a female friend not his wife.
In Arizona, one of the reddest of states, a large university invited Obama to speak at commencement, but refused to grant him an honorary doctorate because he lacked sufficient experience and accomplishments. We certainly hope that none of the esteemed administrators at Arizona State University harbored racist thoughts. More than likely they saw Obama as somehow an illegitimate occupant of the White House.
The University of Notre Dame has invited Barack Obama to address its graduates and will award him an honorary degree. A vocal minority, supported by the local bishop and Cardinal George of Chicago, are critical of the university because Obama’s position on abortion and some related issues is not that of the Catholic Church. The people who raise these objections have something in common with the rural, red state folks who cannot accept Obama as a legitimate president. They believe that America will never again be dominated by rural, evangelical whites, and they are very angry about it. By the same token, a vocal but perhaps majority element in the Catholic hierarchy realizes the church will never have the power and influence it once had. It cannot recruit enough priests and people are leaving it in droves. Those who remain are furious about the clergy sex scandal, and most are disinclined to listen to the bishops. In both these instances, Republicans have figured out how to harness for political purposes deep frustrations and resentments.
Talking down the recovery
The Republicans have refused to give the new president a honeymoon and have adopted tactics that even threaten the recovery. They have repeatedly insisted that the stimulus will not work, and a PNC Corp. study shows that 47 % of businessmen buy this argument. How many of that 47% will go out and invest in new jobs if they believe that? The Ipsos/McClatchy tracking poll found that about 47% of the general population did not give Obama good marks on the economy. Helped by dishonest Republican charges, many even blame Obama for the AIG bonuses. They forget that it was the Republicans who first objected to restraints on executive compensation.
Now there have been some very small “glimmers of hope” that suggest there could be some improvement by late September. Without skipping a beat, Eric Cantor switched from blaming Democrats for the recession to saying there was not much of a recession in the first place. The new line is that the Democrats overreacted. RNC national chairman Michael Steele chimed in his agreement, adding that all the people in the shopping malls proves there is not much of a problem.
Mastery of the message
One would think that voters would see some duplicity in the works of Eric Cantor, the acknowledged party ideologue in the House. However, over time, people have been conditioned to simply accept such inconsistencies from rightists who claim to be more American and patriotic than the rest of us. In the last two decades, the Republicans have
learned how to apply the findings of modern cognitive science, while Democrats often seem inept in even common sense techniques to self-defense.
This calls to mind a successful tactic used by the Republican who recently ran for Congress in the 20th district of New York. The results were so close that no one has been declared a winner. He repeatedly said his opponent voted to give the AIG executives big bonuses, and this tactic clearly did not injure the Republican. The fact was that his opponent was not an incumbent and had never served in any office. The tactic worked because the press will not call Republicans on any of their shameful tactics. It also worked because Republican consultants have mastered communications theory and have repeatedly proven that it is not difficult to rewire the memory of the electorate. Irresponsible charges on the stump, along with the refusal of the mainstream media to point out the worst offenses, have transformed the public square, into a place where fear, hate, and bald lies trump reason.