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Morning Jay: In Search of Strawmen, the Midwest, Health Care, and More!

6:30 AM, Sep 20, 2010 • By JAY COST
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1. Desperately Seeking Strawmen.  One of President Obama’s chief rhetorical tricks since he was inaugurated has been to attack strawmen, tendentiously drawn caricatures against whom Obama can contrast himself.  Usually, the president does this to create the false impression that he is a centrist – he creates a strawman to his left, then one to his right, shrugs his shoulders and says, “I guess I’m the moderate!’

But the problem for the president has been that Republicans were totally booted from power, between Arlen Specter’s principled party switch and Scott Brown’s victory.  It’s tough to create that false sense of centrism when you have no powerful opponents to your right.

Fortunately for the president, Donna Brazille has the answer:

The good news is that the Tea Party Republicans are taking over the Republican Party. The bad news is that the Tea Party Republicans are taking over the Republican Party. The party of Eisenhower and Reagan is moribund, usurped by the party of Tea Partyers shouting loudly for something, or perhaps nothing at all.

Polls show that 50 percent of Americans have no opinion of the Tea Party. That provides an opportunity for President Obama to accurately define it. Now, newspapers nearly always describe the Tea Party movement as being for "small government and fiscal rectitude."

First of all, I love that Ronald Reagan is suddenly a moderate!

Beyond that, the fact that Brazille thinks President Obama should try to turn the Tea Partiers into his next strawmen - not to mention that the White House is actually considering the idea - is an indication that the Democrats are running out of potential demons.  Their shots against John Boehner last week seemed to fall flat, so I guess this is all that’s left.  

At best, this strategy might help swing an odd election here and there to the Democrats - e.g. Delaware and (maybe) Nevada - and increase the historically low levels of Democratic enthusiasm by a point or two. But that's it. For the swing voters who determine elections, it's clear by now that the midterm is going to be about the deeply unpopular policies of President Obama.  Attacking the Tea Partiers is not going to distract them because the Tea Partiers have had nothing to do with those policies.  This cycle, the GOP has the better argument, and it is not going to take the bait.  Republican candidates everywhere will answer the charge of radicalism with a simple question: "Where are the jobs, Mr. President?"  

The fact that the White House is thinking about such demagoguery is another strong indication that it is simply looking to keep Democratic turnout high enough to prevent a 1974-style tsunami. And it's another sad milestone in the decline of Barack Obama, who promised to be a leader who could heal political wounds and bridge ideological divides, but who has since come to embody much of what he campaigned against.

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