President Barack Obama, after giving his Second Inaugural Address on Jan. 21, 2013, paused as he reentered the U.S. Capitol to look out once more at the vast throng of supporters filling the Mall. He remarked, "I'm not going to see this again." (White House photo)
For anyone who has lived through the past several decades of Republican bullying -- from Richard Nixon's anything-goes politics through Karl Rove's dreams of a "permanent Republican majority" -- it had to be startling to hear House Speaker John Boehner complaining that President Barack Obama's goal was "to annihilate" the GOP.
During a private luncheon of the Republican Ripon Society on Tuesday, Boehner cited Obama's progressive agenda as outlined in his Second Inaugural Address as representing an existential threat to the GOP.
"It's pretty clear to me that he knows he can't do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans," Boehner said. "So we're expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party." The Ohio Republican also claimed that it was Obama's goal "to just shove us into the dustbin of history."
Of course, Boehner may be wildly exaggerating the Republican plight to shock the party out of its funk, raise more money, and get right-wing activists back to the barricades. Still, his comments marked a remarkable reversal of fortune, like the playground bully getting his nose bloodied and running to the teacher in tears.
Even if hyped from political effect, Boehner's lament also might force some progressives to rethink their negative views about President Obama. If indeed Obama has gotten the upper hand on America's swaggering Right, then he might not be the political wimp that many on the Left have pegged him to be.
Without doubt, America's political landscape has shifted from what it was just eight years ago when President George W. Bush was talking about using his political capital to privatize Social Security and Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, was contemplating an enduring Republican control of all three branches of the U.S. government.
As part of that Zeitgeist of 2005, as Bush entered his second term, right-wing activist Grover Norquist joked about keeping the Democrats around as neutered farm animals. The president of Americans for Tax Reform -- most famous for getting Republicans to pledge never to raise taxes -- told the Washington Post that congressional Democrats should grow accustomed to having no power and no reproductive ability.
"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans," Norquist said. "Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant. But when they've been 'fixed,' then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful."
How We Got There
That moment of right-wing arrogance represented a culmination of decades of hardball Republican politics, a take-no-prisoners style that usually encountered only the softest of responses from the Democrats and progressives.
Arguably the pattern was set in fall 1968 when President Lyndon Johnson learned that GOP presidential nominee Nixon was sabotaging the Vietnam peace talks to ensure his victory over Vice President Hubert Humphrey -- but Johnson stayed silent about what he called Nixon's "treason" out of concern that its exposure would not be "good for the country." [See Robert Parry's America's Stolen Narrative.]
Nixon's success in 1968 -- and the Democratic silence -- contributed to his decision several years later to create an extra-legal intelligence unit to spy on and undermine the Democrats heading into Election 1972. Finally, Nixon's political chicanery undid him when his team of burglars was arrested inside the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate building. The resulting scandal led to his resignation in 1974.
But the Republican response to Watergate wasn't to mend the party's ways but rather to learn how to protect against ever again being held accountable. That reality became the political back story of the next three decades, as the Right built up a fearsome media apparatus and deployed well-funded operatives to shield Republicans and to discredit anyone who presented a threat, whether untamed Democrats, nosy reporters or average citizens.
This Right-Wing Machine showed off its value during the 1980s and early 1990s when President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George H.W. Bush were caught up in the Iran-Contra national security scandal but succeeded in skating away with only minimal political damage. Instead of Reagan and Bush being held accountable for their crimes, far worse damage was inflicted on the careers of investigators, journalists and witnesses who tried to expose the wrongdoing.
Within this political/media framework, when Democrats did win elections, Republicans immediately demeaned them as illegitimate interlopers. For instance, Bill Clinton's electoral victory in 1992 was an opportunity for the Right-Wing Machine to demonstrate that it could play offense as well as defense, tying up Clinton's presidency endlessly in trivial "scandals" and setting the stage for the GOP congressional comeback in 1994.
Over those decades, the Republicans behaved as if national power was their birthright. In Election 2000, they saw nothing wrong with aggressively disrupting the recount in Florida, both with rioters on the ground and partisan justices on the U.S. Supreme Court. It didn't matter that Vice President Al Gore had won the nation's popular vote and would have carried Florida if all legal ballots were counted. What mattered was putting a Republican in the White House by whatever means necessary. [For details, see Neck Deep.]
The Republican Apex