It’s clever and it works: President Obama regularly uses words that would accurately describe himself and his policies to describe Republicans and their policies. He thereby deflects attention away from his own shortcomings and reassures his audience that their underlying concerns about him are unfounded: How could he himself be immoderate and extreme if those are precisely his objections to his opponents? If he constantly shows frustration with “uncompromising” and “radical” conservatives, surely he is not radical and uncompromising himself.
Obama often accused George W. Bush of trying to “scare up votes.” But Obama’s own presidential campaigns rested upon precisely that. This from Agence France-Presse, just after the 2012 Iowa Caucuses:
In keeping with its previous line of attack, the Obama campaign’s manager Jim Messina said in a statement that the ‘extremist Tea Party agenda won a clear victory’ … ‘No matter who the Republicans nominate, we’ll be running against someone who has embraced that agenda in order to win – vowing to let Wall Street write its own rules, end Medicare as we know it, roll back gay rights, leave the troops in Iraq indefinitely, restrict a woman’s right to choose, and gut Social Security to pay for more tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.
Throughout his first term, Obama decried GOP “budget games,” “obstructionism” and unwillingness to “compromise,” at the same time insisting that it was Republicans, not he, who engaged in “blaming and finger-pointing.” He stigmatized “Republicans in Congress” as obstinate do-nothings at the very time he was: campaigning around the country instead of governing; giving hyper-partisan fundraising speeches; and refusing to submit a real budget or to meet with Republicans in the attempt to forge a budget.
Moreover, he continuously caricatured Republicans as ideologically extreme. At a 2011 Town hall Meeting at Facebook headquarters, he said, “I think it’s fair to say their vision is radical.” A year later, Obama was hammering the same theme, saying, for example, that the Republican budget plan represented “an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country.” Almost everyone in the media bought Obama’s line. An article by Peter Fenn for U.S. News and World Report entitled “The Poisonous Radicalization of the Republican Party” nicely encapsulates media views:
In fact, the failure of Speaker John Boehner and the Tea Party to agree to efforts by President Obama to reach a $4 trillion grand bargain to right the economic ship was an example of radicals’ my-way-or-the-highway approach. …. The American people, overwhelmingly, reject this extremism. They are fed up with the lack of progress and the extremism that has become the modern Republican Party. … Tea Party ideologues who lack common sense and have no desire to actually solve problems.
It is thus that the national discussion of the budget (and of countless other issues) is preposterous to the point of being surreal. Lest we point out that Obama is the most ideological and the least compromising of presidents, Obama and the press accuse others of those very shortcomings.
Today, Republicans in Congress are again labeled extreme, even though it is the Obama team that has upped the ante, rejecting their own former taxing and spending goals for bigger ones. Has no one noticed that they have tried to convince the legislature to cede to the executive branch the power to raise the debt ceiling indefinitely by fiat? Does no one worry about their brazen plan to increase taxes by $1.6 trillion over six years, to load the budget with partisan priorities and to add $50 billion in stimulus spending and home mortgage refinancing —without detailing any spending cuts? Has class warfare succeeded to such an extent that no one sees the statist pitfalls for all of us in proposals to tax dividends as ordinary income, and to levy a 45% estate tax on inheritances over $3.5 million?
In foreign policy, too, Obama skillfully exploits language to his advantage. He tells us that Republican lawmakers are “playing politics with our military,” while he favors a “balanced approach.” “Instead of making tough choices to reduce the deficit, they’d rather protect tax cuts for some of the wealthiest Americans, even if it risks big cuts in our military,” Obama said in July.
Thanks, President Obama. What a relief that you want “balance.” We worried you wanted severe military cuts and astronomical increases in discretionary spending. Maybe that’s because we forgot to read the news of the day: White House Rejects GOP fiscal cliff counteroffer, saying it does not meet ‘test of balance.’