Crazy As A Fox: Why Republicans Are Calling Obama A Republican
After two years of being dubbed a “liberal-socialist,” President Barack Obama is waking up to the new label of “conservative” and you will not believe where it’s coming from. According to a growing number of conservatives, magically President Copperfield has morphed from a Marxist to a Reganist. Poof! A donkey is now an elephant—or maybe just a clever fox.
It is no secret that many on the left have been displeased by what they see as the administration’s quick trigger to compromise with Republicans. Center-left legislation on health-care reform and financial regulation has invited some spirited dissent from Obama’s once united base. Most recently, the President drew the ire of numerous Congressional Democrats and the “Professional Left” over the two-year tax-cut compromise he struck with Republican leaders during the 2010 lame duck session. Former MSNBC political commentator, Keith Olbermann actually called the President a “sell-out” and “amoral” in a rather disrespectful twelve-minute lambasting. This was of course before President Obama signed the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) and a nuclear disarmament treaty.
Calling Obama a conservative is not a new phenomenon. However, up until now, it has been the left making those assertions. Democrats have been calling the President a conservative since his first month in office when he was only able to wrangle up close to $1 billion in stimulus and economic investment. And even though it seems largely overstated, petulance from the left is understandable. But Republicans calling Obama a Republican is quite a head-scratching conundrum.
Last Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, former adviser to President George W. Bush, Ambassador Karen Hughes said, “You might think you’ve gone to sleep and you woke up and the 2012 election had happened and we elected a Republican.” Later that week, Republican Strategist John Feehery said on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, “If the President’s going to govern as a Republican, it’s going to be hard for the Republicans to beat him. Now, on the other hand, that might inspire a primary challenge to him, which will weaken him.” Conservative commentators Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan have echoed the same bizarre sentiment, albeit in a joking manner. This new narrative has taken hold since the President’s newfound jolt in popularity and smells of a Frank Luntz talking point. Fair enough, but why call him a conservative after labeling him a socialist for two years?
Everyone is aware of President Obama’s ostensibly fragile relationship with the loudest voices in his base. Megaphone liberals such as Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, and John Stewart have often expressed their support and disappointment with the administration. Despite polling that suggests otherwise, there is a feeling Obama could be alienating his base so egregiously he may invite a 2012 primary challenge or be whacked with the same lack of voter turnout that marked the 2010 midterm election cycle. And the love loss seems to be mutual. The President recently vented some of his frustration in a press conference warning Democrats of being politically nearsighted and becoming so “sanctimonious” that they fail to advance their agenda.
Republicans smell blood in the water and they want in.
What conservatives are hoping to do is splinter off support for the President who seems to be gaining traction with independents and moderates. Independents love compromise; liberals love a fight. If Republicans can paint Obama’s recent concessions to the GOP as embracing conservative ideology and policy, they can balance out his gains in popularity with moderates with a growing loss in confidence on the part of liberals—keeping his job approval rating from rising above it’s current 54-percent mark (NBC/Wall Street Journal). On one hand you have Republicans calling the President a socialist to keep their base happy, and on the other, calling him a conservative to anger Obama’s. For all the chaotic noise on the right, they have proven to be more politically adept in regards to framing and messaging than the Democrats. Quite brilliant. However, they may have played this hand a tad bit too late.
The President has already been moving to the center in return for movement on legislation and has beaten Republicans to the punch—or to the middle depending on how you look at it. There is no political reason for Obama to blast Republicans anymore, as he needed to do on health-care and financial regulation reforms. From a purely political standpoint, the President needs to keep talking about investing in American greatness, appealing to the U.S. spirit of industrious competition, as he did in his State of the Union speech, double-down on his famous hope-filled rhetoric and pick up centrist bill after centrist bill on his way to a second term.
Sitting at 54-percent job approval with a 9.4-percent unemployment number is rather remarkable. If that number stays above 9-percent it could spell disaster, but if it drops below 8-percent, George Washington himself might not stand a chance in beating Obama in a national election. Substantively, with the hiring of Bill Daley as his new Chief-of-Staff and this new business charm offensive, the President will be able to go to the American public and say: I listened to you. I got it: jobs, jobs, jobs. The Chamber of Commerce has even embraced recent efforts. Obviously, The Chamber of Commerce would not endorse President Obama in an election for county sheriff, much less president, but he will have enough photo-ops of meetings, newspaper quotes, and sound-bites that scream an attempt at cooperation with big business.
Even this new push for deficit reduction spells victory with the middle for the President as it will ‘force’ him to bring both sides together in a cut-and-spend balancing act. If that results in a serious reduction in American debt and/or a balanced budget within the next two years, like his Democratic predecessor President Bill Clinton, he alone will receive the lions-share of the credit. Republicans will claim like they did in ’94 that they ‘forced’ the President into a corner. [Raised eyebrow, head tilt.] Right, the same way a farmer forces a fox into a henhouse. With a White House that’s been alarmingly off message, it may not be that all of a sudden the President is “getting it,” but rather that his political operatives are “getting it.” All that intellectual capital may be paying off.
Already in his knapsack of progressive victories, the President can boast to his base about: health-care reform, financial regulation, education reform, DADT repeal, the START Treaty, women’s equal-pay legislation, the automobile industry bailout, and two versions of economic stimulus. In fact, he has been able to spend more on public investment in his first two years than Clinton did in eight. That record alone rivals President Lyndon Johnson in terms of progressive legislation and will shore up an unmotivated base. Not that the ‘Professional Left’ can be easily silenced, but if the President helps to reinstate the ban on high-capacity ammunition clips and gets The Dream Act through Congress, it will quell some of the noise.
My guess is that in his second term, without the prospect of reelection, the President will most likely push to go further in nationalizing health-care, end the Afghan war, and invest in even more public infrastructure.
As far as 2012 is concerned, President Obama and his aides are counting on his grumbling base to vote for the most progressive candidate. And unless Anthony Weiner (D-NY) or Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) switches party affiliation and wins the Republican nomination, that candidate will be Barack Obama. The far-left may not love it, but they will vote for it. If the Republican fight for the nomination plays out like it is shaping up; even the most centrist Republican will have to make some pretty controversial statements along the campaign trail to win the primary. The election is two years away and already one-time-moderates and 2012 would-be-candidates Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty are tripping over each other and former positions to seem more Republican; a purity test that President Ronald Regan could not pass today.
Republicans can call the President what they want. Call him a liberal, a conservative, a Marxist, a loyal follower of Ayn Rand. Call him nothing more than a big smile and a golden voice. It may not matter at this point. Amidst Republicans selling their political souls to noisy right-wing pundits, gun-toting Tea Party rallies, and that gift that keeps on giving, Sarah Palin, the majority of the country sees him as the grownup. Regardless of party, that alone will suffice for most Americans.
The fox is in the henhouse. Touché Barack. Touché.
Raymond A. Paultre III