By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
It has become routine to hear conservative talk radio hosts, such as Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, as well as many commentators on Fox News, react to public comments by the Obama administration and its supporters with an exasperated, “Do they think we’re stupid?”
I have in mind Obama supporters’ contentions that the Supreme Court majority in the Hobby Lobby case was acting “like Iranian mullahs” (Hillary Clinton said that) and seeking to “deny women the freedom to control their bodies”; the constant repetition of the claim that Republicans in Congress have become “tools of the Tea Party”; the protestation that there is “not a smidgen of evidence” (in the president’s words) that anything illegal took place during the IRS investigations of conservative Republican groups, or anything suspicious about the crashing of the hard drives of Lois Lerner and six of her colleagues at the IRS; the insistence that the misleading statements by Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama about what happened during the attack on our embassy at Benghazi were caused by confusion during “the fog of war.”
There’s more. Remember how President Obama and Attorney General Holder told us they first learned about Fast and Furious, the gun-running scheme into Mexico, when they “read about it in the newspapers”? That was the same place where the president told us he learned that the IRS was targeting conservative and Tea Party groups. There is also the straight-faced denial that politics had anything to do with the recent media reports that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was facing “new” charges that he engaged in a “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate with outside groups during his 2011/2012 recall election.
Why would Obama’s representatives say these things? Can’t they see that everyone knows they are — at the very least — fudging the truth?
The evidence is undeniable that Hobby Lobby was refusing to furnish four potentially abortion-inducing drugs to its employees, but was willing to pay for the 16 other forms of contraception required by the mandate.
Can’t they see that everyone knows it is preposterous to hold that all those IRS computers crashed at the same time?
Don’t they know we have seen the internal memos that make clear that Obama’s security advisers and the State Department knew from the beginning that what happened in Benghazi in 2012 was a terrorist attack?
Don’t they understand that we can look up to find out that no charges were filed against Scott Walker after a series of far-reaching investigations?
So if the Obama administration and its political team do not think we are “stupid,” why do they take these easily refuted positions in public? Because they are not trying to fool us. The goal is to give talking points to their base. Some members of their base will be true believers, gullible enough to accept whatever the Obama team tells them. But others will know what a talking point is all about. They will understand that they are being given quick retorts to shape public opinion in their discussions with friends and colleagues.
Like it or not, it is a strategy that works. You will have to take my word that I am not a deliberate eavesdropper when I am at a diner or local restaurant. There are things that you hear in those settings whether you intend to or not. And I have heard all the above-mentioned talking points repeated with apparent sincerity by seemingly rational and fair-minded people over the past year.
I have heard people say, “How can you be sure that the terrorists who attacked the embassy in Benghazi didn’t watch the anti-Muslim YouTube video that Susan Rice was talking about?” That “the IRS was investigating liberal groups too”; that employers “have no right to deny women control over their bodies”; that maybe Lois Lerner did something fishy with her computer, but “there is no proof that the president or his team knew anything about it.”
This is what makes the Obama administration’s tactic worse than a presumption that the American public is “stupid.” The Obama team is not trying to justify their actions, to get out the truth, to make the case that they are acting legally or morally or in the best interests of the country as a whole. Their goal is to motivate their core supporters for the purpose of carrying the day at the ballot box. They are not trying to form a broad-based coalition that will include a generous sampling of those who usually oppose them politically. A small Electoral College majority is sufficient.
A small numerical majority was not the goal for political parties in the past when major issues were at stake; the parties would “move to the center” in search of policies that would represent the country’s mainstream, to form a consensus by winning over as much of the “loyal opposition” as was feasible.
That was how support for ground-breaking legislation was gathered — for the end to Prohibition, for the Social Security and Great Society programs and civil rights reforms, for example. When legislation was passed in this manner, it would be less likely to cause resentment and divisiveness and more likely to reflect the national will.
In contrast, the new Obama strategy of seeking to win with a “base election” does not seek compromise and reconciliation. It seeks to ram through its agenda whether or not a consensus has been formed in its favor. It proceeds as if there is not a “loyal opposition,” but rather an enemy faction that must be overwhelmed by any means necessary. (The enemy faction is us, of course.)
It is a strategy that can justify deliberate deceptions, ballot fraud, immigration policies meant to change the country’s demographics in a way that favors liberal Democrats. The objective is to overwhelm conservative vectors of society. In the eyes of those working for a base election, those conservative vectors represent racist, sexist, jingoist, homophobic, and bigoted strands of our past that must be eliminated for the sake of progress. If it takes some dishonesty to achieve that end, well, as they say, “Politics ain’t beanbag.”
You will frequently hear old-time Washington reporters bemoan the loss of goodwill in Washington, the days “when Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan could get together over a beer and hash out a compromise for the good of the country.” Reagan and O’Neill could do that because they viewed each other as the loyal opposition, not as lowlifes with a contemptible agenda for the country. We were told that the genius of the two-party system was this impetus it gives to moderation, to policies that the country as a whole, even those out of power, can live with. It looks as if those days are over.
Try to picture Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz, or Sheila Jackson Lee and Paul Ryan, getting together over that beer to come up with a reasonable compromise about the issues that face us, and you will appreciate the problem we face today.