Our political Quote of the Day is worth looking at extensively. It comes from Time’s Mark Halperin who elaborates what we’ve suggested here: that Barack Obama and the Democrats could be helped in retaining power or holding onto a decent chunk of it by the over-the-top rhetoric of a segment of the Republican Party communicated by an intricate and increasingly effective info machine.
Halperin notes that except for George H.W. Bush, few Presidents in recent times escaped being called the “worst President ever” by their enemies and by opposition pundits. He writes of what others call the GOP’s echo chamber but which I think should more accurately be called its political rhetoric reaffirmation club. Writing of the tenet that Obama is the worst President ever Halperin says this:
But this myopia has been created within an electronic cocoon of Fox News, talk radio, conservative websites, and prominent rhetoric from Republican leaders, all passionately reinforcing the message that the Obama Administration is disastrous on an historic scale. It’s a message transported as gamely by rank-and-file Republicans as by erudite conservative columnists with national readerships.
This is part of 21st century political culture where partisans will only read, listen to and watch what they already agree with before they read it, listen to it or watch it. An inaccuracy or fact means little in this culture: it’s a trifle to be belittled, rushed over or, most usually, just ignored. Thus you have the birthers who go on and on and on more than the Energizer Rabbit.
And this Memorial Day we’ve seen a quintessential example in the charge that Obama was somehow anti-military for not observing Memorial Day at Arlington its. It made no difference that a zillion journalists or pundits pointed out that several GOP President’s didn’t observe it there, either — the talking point when on (even last night on Twitter)…of course omitting the fact that some Republican Presidents honored America’s heroes in ceremonies elsewhere as well. In other words: rage over something has become overtly party specific.
Here’s Halperin’s final paragraphs about the real political danger facing Republicans:
In the run-up to the 2010 midterms we have already seen that the anti-Obama forces are expressing their disagreements with the administration in terms far more personal than political, tinged with an apocalyptic irrationality. The centrifugal force exerted on conservative leaders towards the extreme wing of their party is bound to lead to even more magnified rhetoric in the next few years. The contrast between those excessive attacks and Obama’s famous cool will serve him, and the Democrats, well.
Within the overheated conservative bubble there is little room for discussions of serious policy alternatives to deal with America’s problems, reminders that the country is typically drawn to optimistic candidates (like Reagan and Obama), and weighty appeals to the center of the electorate. If Obama is the worst president ever, conservatives seem to believe, why do they need to say anything more than that to take control of Congress and, then, get rid of him? But while the conservatives’ ultimate condemnation rallies their core base supporters and has resonated with some centrist voters, over time it is unlikely to produce a majority against the administration.
The reason: Americans are often dissed by some on each side when they don’t vote their way, but the fact is that many voters so in the end listen and weigh. If they just hear emotional lash out, that may not be enough in times of crisis.
It can’t be pleasant for Obama to be the subject of such attacks. And solving the country’s major problems in a bipartisan fashion will be difficult under these rancorous circumstances. But as long as those trying to beat him are blind to the fact that tens of millions of voting Americans actually think Obama is doing a fine job, this President has a great ally in his enemies.
Polls show Obama’s numbers have been fairly stready for a while — but his disapproval rating in the latest Pollster.com poll composite (see below) is starting to rise and is now greater than his approval rating. In other words, quite a few Americans also feel Obama is not doing a fine job. So can the Republicans capitalize on this?
Two key issues are at play here:
1. The hubris of both political parties, which promise great changes when they run and then get in power and are prone to political horse tradiging or ideological overreach. In fact, in most recent elections most Americans have not voted for Democrats because they wanted a new liberal program or for Republicans because they wanted a conservative agenda. These votes didn’t mean every American suddenly wanted to subscribe to The Nation or The Weekkly Standard. In the case with a segment of the Republican party today, we’re now seeing a demand for ideological purity coupled with anti-Obama rage that Republicans decried when they felt it was aimed at George W. Bush.
2. There is indeed a center in American politics that may shift left or but there is a center. Independent voters are also an important part of that center. Each party needs a winning coalition to pick up a chunk of the independents and of some of that sometimes shifting center who are Democrats or Republicans, even in a time of ideological polarization. The Republican party’s danger is that their rhetoric appeals to those who already agree with them, can turn off those who don’t agree with them, and ideological purists’ interactions with those who don’t agree with them are often less aimed at winning over votes than scolding or disdaining. It’ll be vital for the Democrats and Republicans to get their bases to the polls — and right now the enthusiasm level is higher among GOPers — but also critical to win over and keep the center. And the center is fickle with political party brands so the need to keep winning and keeping it is a constant..right up until election day.
In that context, as Halperin notes, Obama’s political foes can help him by turning off those who might be inclined to vote for another option besides Democrats and Obama — because the alternative shopping-around voters will see seems angry, inaccurate, alarmist, possibly way out there and seemingly fixated on personality and dislike rather than on affirmative policy ideas and suggestions about how to get the country out of a mess both political parties helped create.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.