Obama wants to freeze the Republican hatred but instead he will propose to freeze domestic spending in his State of the Union address Wednesday evening. His gambit is that by publicly endorsing what the Republicans have said they want, they won't dare to say no again. But he would be wrong to undermine the depth of the Wile E. Coyotes on the other side of the aisle. They smell blood and they are not letting up. They've already moved the goal post.
If this move were a political ploy to prove to the nation how unruly and anti-everything the Republicans have been, it would be a smart one. But this is an unlikely scenario.
Obama has used his sharp
communicate skills to try to transcend the underlying hatred and bring the
public back to rational thought. But every little nick the Republicans make in
the thin-skinned Democrats gets Obama closer to death by a thousand cuts, and
Obama (and by extension our democracy) is bleeding.
What will he do if another Congress member decides to deliver another shout out while the President delivers the nation's most important annual public speech? Is he prepared to respond on the spot, or will he ignore it and just let Nancy Pelosi glare? Will the sergeants-at-arms remove a sitting member of Congress who displays uncivil behavior? Will holding up accusatory signs, as if the speech were a mere political rally, be tolerated? Will the Democrats let it go unchecked and allow the excuse that it was a purely a spontaneous emotional outburst? Who will carry the water for the timid Democrats this time?
Obama, at least in his public persona, was forgiving of the outburst by Republican Congressman Joe Wilson (SC), and the President treated it like a small faux pas rather than a warrior's rallying cry. That was a mistake. What if it does happen again?
Even before he won the election, Republicans accused Obama of being an appeaser. As it turns out, he's not the appeaser they thought they would get, given the slow and bumpy exit from Iraq and further sinking in Afghanistan. As it's turned out, however, the label isn't so far off mark; it's just wrongly applied.
In short, the state of the union is not good. We are more divided than ever, more contentious, and angrier. Those who worked hard to elect Obama are thoroughly disgusted at his lack of spine in confronting the hatred and lies spewed by his enemies, thinly disguised as an opposition party.
And yes, the Republicans, not just the tea baggers and those who used to be called the fringe, see themselves as the President's enemies. Republicans are more than a party of No these days. They have, by their own admission, stated that their objective is to bring down this presidency. They are not merely opposed to specific policies; they are opposed to anything Obama wants. If they gum up the business of governing in the process of countering Obama's efforts to do his job, even better: that will show the public that Obama is incapable of governing.
Unfortunately, this cunning, disingenuous strategy is working, and Obama shares the blame. The President's predilection for good will and humility in the face of mean-spirited opposition, combined with a split Democratic Party that lacks the ability to take the offense, has been a sorry sight. It has put the Democrats right where the Republicans want them, allowing the Republicans and their cohorts to paint the Democrats as inept appeasers who can't run the government. Obama's model of decorum is what passes for party discipline. You can't have civility when people refuse to live by the rules and be civil, and lack of civility, at its core, is how a society eventually gets to Civil War.
Make no mistake about it. There is a war brewing. The tea partiers hold up signs about revolution, though it's hard to know what they are revolting against. But they get attention and the populist anger is palpable, if not always focused. Last month, Republican candidate for Senate, Richard Behney, stated that he was ready to get out his guns if the Democrats weren't thrown out of office peacefully, and that includes the President. Behney is challenging conservadem Evan Bayh of Indiana.
The Democrats don't seem to be taking this kind of threat seriously. It's not just a political threat to someone's election or re-election that's at stake. Obama's instincts for humility in the political process are laudable; it's nice that he respects opposing viewpoints. But he must also counter the lies and the politics of No for what they are: an assault on the underpinnings of democracy.
The Tea Party movement is not an official political party, but their members are calling for revolution. The first step in their objective is the conservative takeover of Congress and then the removal of Obama from office. There have already been signs among the protesters calling for impeachment. A quick Google of "impeach obama" offers 884,000 hits. One poll shows 35 percent of Republicans in favor of impeaching the President.
Support for such a movement is dependent on the lies that have been part of the media's daily he said/she said gotchas. Ignoring them is not an option. When Lewis Carroll's Alice goes to the tea party, attended also by the Mad Hatter, she ultimately declares that it is indeed the stupidest party she has ever been to. Obama may find it stupid, as many others do, but it doesn't take that much for a lie to gain traction in this environment. Serious contenders for Congress are asking for Obama's proof of citizenship in spite of numerous public fact checking and refutation too little, too late.
The tea partiers accuse Obama of Nazism (among other contradictory things). While the accusations are laughable, it should be noted that Hitler took power by refusing to work with a coalition government, which had been elected, and by spreading lies about the elected leaders. Hitler claimed that the elected government was incapable of combating the evil communism (i.e., they were soft on defense). Eventually, the government became dysfunctional, opening an opportunity for Hitler, who was already jockeying to take over. And the banks and businessmen of the day were behind him; they thought Hitler would be good for Germany (and for them, of course). It is worth noting that this occurred at a time of massive unemployment and economic hardship, the Depression, when people were looking for what they perceived to be "strong" leadership.
From the beginning of this Administration, the Republicans have been given a free pass to say anything, however false, and getting away with it. Obama characterized some of it as "silly" assuming that most Americans tea partiers aside would understand just how ludicrous their rants are. In this he gives the public much too much credit and he seems not to really understand his enemy. Make no mistake about it. The Republicans think of themselves as enemies of Obama, and by extension, their fellow Democrats. Those gloves came off a long time ago.
Whatever broad agenda Obama offers in hope of winning the public's support and however he characterizes the state of the union, decorum can't be built without countering the lies and getting angry with those who spew them. They must be exposed for the Mad Hatters that they are.
Oh the irony of the State of the Union speech being moved to appease the fans of Lost!