Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Obama Captures Essence of Tea Party in Bill O'Reilly interview

By now most of you know how President Obama took Bill O'Reilly to the woodshed, in his pre-Superbowl interview. O'Reilly, long accustomed to intimidating and dominating his guests, found it difficult to dent Obama's Teflon demeanor. I'm not an expert but O'Reilly looked intimidated and frightened by the President's poise. Aside from the aesthetics, Obama made a point I think ought to be repeated. When O'Reilly asked the President whether he was disturbed that "people hated him" he answered in this way:

OBAMA:The truth is, the people and--and I'm sure previous presidents would say the same thing--The people who dislike you don't know you...

O'REILLY: But they hate you.

OBAMA: The folks who hate you don't know you--

O'REILLY: That's true--

OBAMA:What they hate is whatever fun house mirror image of you that's out there. They don't hate you, and so you don't take it personally.

The "they" that O'Reilly was probably referring to, includes the Tea Party cohort and the Republican rank-and-file. Their personal disapproval animates much of the emotional and visceral reaction this faction of the country has towards Obama. Obama's answer accurately captures the Tea Party; though they claim they want to put an end to "big government," "tax and spend liberalism," and socialized medicine," much of this is just a rhetorical cover: government spending increased dramatically under Republican President George Bush, and no Tea Parties sprout up. Taxes are at there lowest point in 50 years, and the Obama Health care plan is roughly the same as the policy implemented by Mitt Romney (R-MA) in Massachusetts, and one endorsed by Bob Dole the 1996 Republican Presidential Nominee. None of these policies spawned the raucous opposition Obama faces today, although the people opposing him cite the very proposals Republicans supported in the past.

These facts have been thoroughly documented but I feel the need to repeat them because Democrats are operating under the idea that they should strive to find middle ground with the conservative base or politicians beholden to it. Recent moves to the "center" by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and articles like this one in the Washington Post, on the demise of the corporatist (though self styled centrist) Democratic Leadership Council are in part based on the idea that liberal overreach has caused Democrats to lose. And Per-Digby Democrats clearly believe that their losses in the midterms are cause because they were too liberal and hope governing from the "Center" will bring them victory.

Obviously from a progressive perspective politicians McCaskill are far superior to their right-wing alternatives. But Democrats who feel that taking up "centrist" positions on issues like the budget, or trying to find common ground on abortion will somehow generate goodwill from Republicans have miscalculated. To repeat Obama "What they hate is what ever fun house mirror image of you is out there." Obama, McCaskill, and other Democrats generate intense personal dislike from conservatives simply by virtue of being Democrats. And no matter how much Democrats "Move to the Center" the Republican base will still oppose them viciously.

Furthermore terms like Centrism and Moderate are constantly changing. Tea Party outrage made policies that Bush, Romney, and Dole endorsed in the past suddenly radical Marxist ideas. Rather than simply allowing the goalposts to shift, and meekly give in to the "fun house" personalization of their policies Democrats should articulate and seriously fight for the progressive policies they claim to believe in.

Democratic Party leaders have historically let themselves and their policies be caricatured as the epitome of evil, and unfortunately for them, desperately flailing toward the "Center" has not mitigated this caricature. President Clinton's famed "triangulation" didn't stop him from being impeached. And in 2010 most of the Democrats who voted against health care reform went down in defeat (including Ike Skelton D-Missouri). None of this is to say that the Democratic Party should attempt to shut out conservatives. But the party spent most of the last two years watering down legislation to appeal to Republicans and work out compromises, and for Republicans compromise is only possible if their positions are adopted whole sale (re:Bush Tax Cut extensions). I hope President Obama and Democrats reflect on the fact that the conservative bases' intense disapproval of them is premised on a "fun house mirror image" created in part by the Right wing media. Aborting, or not articulating progressive policies will not appease them.

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