Many commentators have expressed outrage over the president criticizing Paul Ryan and demagoguing the Supreme Court. Personally, I can't muster outrage. I think it's just a sorry spectacle.
Somewhere along the line, Obama decided that his best path to reelection was through bare-knuckled partisan brawling. Undoubtedly, he flirted with the alternative of working with the opposition, for instance, by making William Daley chief of staff last year. But Daley is gone now, as is any pretense of collaboration.
Purely from the standpoint of reelection, this strategy makes some sense. Check out the right-track/wrong-track numbers from RealClearPolitics.
If Obama is reelected with such terrible feelings about the national condition, it will be unprecedented in the history of public opinion polling. Obviously, that would be no little feat, so what this president is doing is a classic case of misdirection.
The country needs a bad guy to blame for its problems, so day in and day out Obama is providing them with a smorgasbord of villains from which to choose: Wall Street, Big Oil, the Tea Party, Paul Ryan, Rush Limbaugh, the Supreme Court, the Catholic Church, and so on. In fact, virtually everything that comes out of this president’s mouth is about redirecting blame onto some straw man.
This is why Obama does not care if his attacks are unfair, untrue, unoriginal, unseemly, or whatever. He has only one goal: The state of the union stinks right now, and I must keep that stench off me.
So were you outraged by Obama’s smarmy remarks about the Supreme Court? Too bad, he does not care. He is not after your vote. He is after the vote of the fellow in the middle of the electorate, who may never have even heard of Marbury v. Madison, but certainly knows about $4 gas. If Obama can get that guy to direct his anger at somebody else for the next seven months, then he wins reelection. This week the fall guy was the Supreme Court. Next week it will be John Boehner or Big Oil or whomever. Really, it does not matter so long as it is not the president.
This runs contrary to the very premise of the Obama candidacy from 2008. Remember, he had little experience in national affairs, but that was supposed to be a great thing because Washington, D.C. had not corrupted him with its brand of divide-and-conquer gamesmanship. Instead, Obama would resurrect,
another tradition to politics, a tradition that stretched from the days of the country's founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.
Barack Obama wrote that in The Audacity of Hope just five years ago. It seems like a lifetime ago, and it should be clear by now that he adopts whatever posture he thinks will advance his political prospects. In 2007, he was the post-partisan unifier, a persona that could capitalize on the widespread frustration with the Bush years. Hence, The Audacity of Hope. Five years later, with the country as frustrated as ever, he has become a hyper-partisan hack who will blame anybody or anything to distract from his own shortcomings. Hence, his attacks on the Court and Ryan.
This strategy might get him reelected, but for what greater purpose? Barack Obama intends to break the country into fragments by shamelessly playing one group off another, in the hope that by November his share of the pieces will be just a touch larger than the opposition’s. But how can he possibly put those pieces back together again, should he be victorious?
Our system is designed to prevent big changes absent a broad consensus, which Obama has little hope of achieving with this approach. He will not get enough Democrats in Congress to replay 2009-2010, meaning that he will have to work with Republicans, the very people he is now villainizing. Does he think the sore feelings he has created will simply disappear? They won’t. When you lose somebody's trust, you almost never get it back.
Harry Truman employed the same, rotten strategy to win reelection in 1948; he succeeded at the ballot box, but his Fair Deal largely stalled in the Congress in 1949. Unsurprisingly, after months of dividing the people with class warfare rhetoric, Truman was unable to bring them back together to govern.
Barack Obama should expect nothing more, and I cannot help but marvel at how diminished he is now relative to the heights of just 3 years ago. He was elected in 2008 promising a new kind of politics. Yet he proved himself unequal to the big challenges he faced, and to mask his failures he has hidden behind the nasty partisanship he once decried. As a consequence, he has divided the country and, should he win in November, will only continue to do so, ensuring America gets nothing meaningful done so long as he is president.
Like I said, it's just a sorry spectacle.