If Barack Obama seems like he is savouring the discomfort of Republican politicians struggling to save their seats as Donald Trump drags them down in the polls, it is no less than many of them deserve
As President Obama prepares to leave office, America’s guns have still not been confiscated, citizens have not been sent to FEMA re-education camps and the “world’s greatest healthcare system” (ha!), though certainly tampered with, remains broadly intact. And given the alarmism and sheer cynical scaremongering bandied about by Republican politicians happy to trawl for votes by playing to peoples’ base prejudices, one can understand Barack Obama’s decision to spend his presidential swansong reminding us of all the crazy things that intemperate Republicans predicted he would do in his two terms of office.
This blog has been no great fan of the Obama presidency, though I certainly found him preferable to the McCain/Palin ticket in 2008. True, coming from far more socialist Britain I bring a vantage point and sense of perspective which I think is often lacking in American conservative commentators who are quick to cry “communism!” without really thinking through just how much worse things could be (socialised medicine? I’ll show ya socialised medicine!) But overall this blog has been disappointed with the failure of what was billed as a transformational presidency to really do much transforming for the good.
Yet much of that failure and stasis has been the result of Republican obstructionism rather than the personal failings of Barack Obama – and often unreasonable obstructionism at that. Mitch McConnell’s pledge that the Senate’s top priority should be to make Obama a one term president is emblematic of the party-before-country cynicism which often motivated Republicans to take bold and sometimes extreme stances in support of “liberty” which ultimately only had the effect of preserving the status quo – a state of affairs which harmed many of their own supporters (one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s rise).
On issue after issue, Republicans succeeded in fighting the Obama administration to a draw. Even Obamacare borrowed heavily from the Massachusetts healthcare reforms of GOP grandee and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, its unbearably socialist individual mandate lifted from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
And yet to listen to Republicans talk, one would sometimes think that Obama had actually succeeded in his Evil Marxist Kenyan plan to turn America into North Korea. Of course, this involves turning a blind eye toward all the fiscal excesses of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush – but Republicans are generally happy to do just that, and pretend that fiscal profligacy began on Obama’s watch.
Given all of this context, one can understand President Obama’s temptation to have a little fun at the expense of those Republicans who fought much of his agenda to a standstill yet still dared to suggest that he was successfully imposing “socialism” on America. And as Tim Murphy outlines at Mother Jones in a piece entitled “Barack Obama’s Sweet Revenge Tour”, the president has frequently succumbed to that temptation in recent days.
President Barack Obama’s approval rating is the highest it has been in 45 months, and Republicans have taken note. In Ohio, Sen. Rob Portman is running an ad boasting of his work with the Democratic commander in chief “to break the grip of heroin addiction.” In California, Rep. Darrell Issa—who once called Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times”—is sending out mailers with Obama’s face on them, touting his work with the president “to protect victims of sexual assault.”
There is a problem with that strategy, though, which is that Obama seems determined to spend the last two weeks of the election laying waste to every Republican who ever crossed him. Though Obama was a liability to Democrats in the 2014 midterms, his renewed popularity has made him the most sought-after advocate for Hillary Clinton and down-ballot Democrats this fall. At rallies and in fundraisers in battleground states and swing districts, Obama has ripped into Republican lawmakers with a mix of exasperation and disdain, mocking their belated rejection (or continued support) of Donald Trump and casting the GOP presidential nominee as the logical endpoint of eight years of toxic hostility.
Issa, who is facing his most competitive race in years, was the most recent Republican to feel his wrath. At a fundraiser in La Jolla on Sunday, Obama trashed the California Republican for his mailer. “Issa’s primary contribution to the United States Congress has been to obstruct and to waste taxpayer dollars on trumped-up investigations that have led nowhere,” he said. “This is now a guy who, because poll numbers are bad, has sent out brochures with my picture on them touting his cooperation on issues with me. Now that is the definition of chutzpah.”
First off, I’m not quite sure what the SJW cultural appropriation police would have to say about an African American using the Yiddish word “chutzpah”. Actually, I think we all know what they would say – “people of color” sit higher in the hierarchy of victimhood, while any attack on Jews (always conflated with Israel and Israelis) is perfectly legitimate in SJW world. But I digress…
It is galling indeed to see Republican establishment cronies like Darrell Issa – politicians who literally made a career suggesting that Obama was incompetent at best and anti-American at worst – suddenly try to wrap their arms around the outgoing president simply because the man at the top of their own party’s ticket is immensely divisive, offputting to whole swathes of the electorate and likely sinking to inglorious defeat on November 8.
But this is the part of Obama’s campaign speech which really cuts to the core in its incisive criticism of Republican failings and strategic/moral missteps since 2008:
Here’s the thing. For years, Republican politicians and the far-right media outlets have pumped up all kinds of crazy stuff about me. About Hillary. About Harry. They said I wasn’t born here. They said climate change is a hoax. They said that I was going to take everybody’s guns away! They said that while we were doing military exercises that we’ve been doing forever, suddenly this was a plot to impose martial law. This is what they’ve been saying for years now! So people have been hearing it they start thinking well maybe it’s true! And if the world they’ve been seeing is I’m powerful enough to cause hurricanes on my own and to steal everybody’s guns in the middle of the night and impose martial law—even though I can’t talk without a ‘prompter—then is it any wonder that they end up nominating somebody like Donald Trump?
And the fact is that there are a lot of politicians who knew better. There are a lot of senators who knew better but they went along with these stories because they figured you know what this’ll help rile up the base, it’ll give us an excuse to obstruct what we’re trying to do, we won’t be able to appoint judges, we’ll gum up the works, we’ll create gridlock, it’ll give us a political advantage. So they just stood by and said nothing and their base began to actually believe this stuff. So Donald Trump did not start this. Donald Trump didn’t start it, he just did what he always did which is slap his name on it, take credit for it, and promote it. That’s what he always does. And so now, when suddenly it’s not working and people are saying wow this guy’s kind of out of line, all of a sudden these Republican politicians who were okay with all this crazy stuff up to a point suddenly they’re all walking away. Oh, this is too much. So when you finally get him on tape bragging about actions that qualify as sexual assault and his poll numbers go down, suddenly that’s a deal-breaker. Well what took you so long! What the heck! What took you so long! All these years!
Well, that is probably just about the most incisive piece of commentary on the failings of the Republican Party you’ll read in the media, and it came from none other than the target of the GOP’s efforts, the current president of the United States.
In actual fact, Obama’s complaints about Republican willingness to flirt with the crazy element echo charges that this blog has been making for some time, notably here:
It was the tri-cornered hat brigade whose admirable devotion to fiscal responsibility only materialised once Barack Obama took office, and then failed to force any meaningful change in Washington despite many of their number being elected to Congress in the 2010 midterms which, who have a case to answer. They were the Great White Hope whose inevitable failure formed the third strike against the political class.
It was not the Democratic Party which fanned the flames of birtherism (and then considered a nominee for president who was born in Canada) and refused to stand up to angry constituents demanding to see a birth certificate. That was all on the Republicans. Donald Trump led that effort, and nearly the entire GOP sat back with a tub of popcorn, thinking that the circus would benefit them politically. And so it did, until their attack dog finally broke the leash and turned on its handlers.
Has Barack Obama been a decidedly left-wing and in some (though by no means all) ways unimpressive president? Yes, he has. But is he a closet Communist, a secret Muslim planning to enforce hardline Islamism on America or a hopelessly incompetent buffoon? Absolutely not. He is a centre-left politician with undeniable skills, twice elected on a centre-left platform and governing according to a centre-left approach. But in their greed to quickly win back power without doing the hard work of making their own pitch to the voters more appealing, too many Republicans were willing to tolerate and sometimes actively participate in the anti-Obama hysteria for short term political gain.
Remember, this is a political party which urged Americans in all seriousness to vote for Sarah Palin as vice president back in 2008. Sarah Palin. The Republicans have been dabbling in crazy and courting the proudly ignorant vote for decades. Donald Trump is nothing but the GOP’s longstanding approach taken to its logical extreme.
And if decent conservatives want to ensure that they never again find themselves in a position of seeing their movement taken over by an ignorant, populist demagogue then they might want to stop blaming Democrats for their own self-inflicted misfortune and instead re-examine their behaviour both in government and opposition.
Was it wise, for example, to pretend to be super tough on immigration, yet ultimately do nothing to stem the flow of illegal immigrants or otherwise reform the system, simply because Republican donors had no interest in changing the status quo, with its plentiful cheap labour for corporations and affordable illegal domestic service for households?
Was it wise to continually shriek not just that Democrats wanted to impose stricter gun control but that they were actively seeking to abolish the Second Amendment? (The big push to completely outlaw guns trumpeted in GOP propaganda has been just weeks away for the past eight years now – is Obama waiting until his very last day in office to take America’s guns?)
Was it smart to prance around as the party of national security while consistently involving America in foreign conflagrations which increased anti-American sentiment, or to pose as the party of civil liberties while loudly cheerleading for the surveillance state?
Was it really such a genius move to talk endlessly about the benefits of tax cuts for ordinary Americans while focusing them overwhelmingly on the wealthy, or to cynically pretend that America’s lost manufacturing jobs could be easily brought back home in the age of globalisation and international supply chains?
At nearly every election going back to the Bill Clinton administration and probably earlier, the Republican Party has been writing rhetorical cheques that its politicians cannot or will not cash when they are either in office or a position of influential opposition, at a national or statewide level.
The Republican Party’s more excitable members need to learn that you can’t go on shrieking that the Bad Democrat is coming to take away your guns and your liberty – and then seamlessly make the transition to accusing their successor of the same sinister motivations when the Day of Tyranny never materialises – without eventually losing a degree of credibility. If I started predicting that the world is going to end at the coming weekend, and then just roll my prediction forward by seven days each weekend that I am proven wrong, pretty soon people will stop listening to me.
When Barack Obama took office the Democratic Party enjoyed two years controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, and yet the nation’s guns remained un-confiscated then, and are still un-confiscated now. And eventually these panicked claims start to look more and more like the cynical politicking that they are.
Republicans should take note when it comes to their incessant scaremongering about the Second Amendment. At this rate, if and when gun rights are under real imminent danger, we will have been warned so many times before that we will not take the threat seriously.
But this is much bigger than any one issue. Unfortunately, one gets the nasty feeling that the Republicans are not learning anything from the Trumpian calamity which they have brought down upon themselves. This blog can quite easily picture another four years of the same hysterical End Times opposition to a President Hillary Clinton – “She’s coming for your guns! I mean it, I’m serious this time!” – and the wholehearted embrace of any conspiracy theory or fringe movement so long as it delivers short term political gain and/or helps to sell more gold coins to paranoid seniors. And what fresh horror will be conjured next, after VP candidate Sarah Palin and presidential candidate Donald Trump?
Depressing? Certainly – America has never needed principled, true conservative leadership more than at this time. But the tragedy is entirely self-inflicted. The Republican Party summoned some viscerally unpleasant forces in its effort to torment the outgoing president and thwart his agenda. Now that they are being consumed by the very forces that they unleashed, can anyone really begrudge Barack Obama his moment of sweet schadenfreude?
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